Bedford School Committee members individually thanked retiring Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad on Tuesday to conclude their final regularly-scheduled meeting of the academic year.
And fittingly, a prominent theme was the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conrad accepted the position in late March 2020, a couple of weeks after the arrival of the coronavirus nationwide. When he officially began on July 1, the environment was one of caution, uncertainty, and improvisation.
Two months into the current academic year, Conrad announced that he would be retiring at its conclusion. He remarked at the time, “What I have lacked in longevity, I think we can all agree we have made up in intensity.”
Tuesday, as the School Committee meeting neared the four-hour mark, Conrad remembered, “No matter what job we were doing, it was hard. We all understood we were doing what we could for the students. Thanks to the support of the town and the School Committee, we were able to make progress. We were able to do these things because we did it together.”
“I’m grateful for that… and I can’t imagine going through this pandemic anywhere else.”
Dan Brosgol, who was elected chair at the close of Tuesday’s meeting, also headed the School Committee during Conrad’s first year. “The work we did together that first year was so intense,” he recalled.
Brosgol said he feels “empathy and gratitude” toward not only the retiring superintendent, but also “all on whom the toll was so great.”
He lauded Conrad’s ability to handle feedback “graciously and patiently and thoughtfully. You don’t overreact. You are measured and temperate. I will remember your steady hand on the wheel.”
Sarah Scoville, committee chair in 2020-2021, told Conrad he “focused really well on student recovery.” She also praised his prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion; creative budget preparation; and his weekly communications with the school community. Noting that she and Conrad trained as art teachers, Scoville said, “I hope you can focus more on making art.”
Member Sheila Mehta-Green, speaking from her Zoom connection, said Conrad “created an environment to bring in all of the key stakeholders.”
Mehta-Green, elected vice chair at the conclusion of the meeting, added that “you listened to all concerns and built a plan together.” She said he handled positive and negative comments “with such grace.”
The newest committee member, Sarah McGinley, was also the first person to fill a non-voting committee chair representing military families, a Conrad innovation. “You have been a real friend to the military families,” McGinley told him, noting that he received a Hanscom challenge coin, “a really, really big honor.”
“I appreciate your sensitivity to the diverse learning needs of the community,” she continued. “You are very straightforward, you’re open, and that’s a real asset.”
Kim Howell, who succeeded McGinley in the military families chair, noted that her husband serves in the Coast Guard and made some nautical references.
“It’s so clear to me that you are the captain and the compass of all of this,” she told Conrad, adding, “I don’t know how you kept your sea legs.”
Outgoing School Committee Chair Brad Morrison said, “Hanscom was one of the things you found joyous.” He applauded Conrad’s communication skills, and “you do it in a way that brings so many different aspects of the town of Bedford into the community you have built.
“I’m always going to remember you as a person who is very principled, who really has values that are consistent and contagious,” Morrison observed. “You did bring your whole self to work. There are not so many easy choices as superintendent – the easy ones get taken care of by somebody else.”
The committee also announced the results of the final evaluation of the superintendent. Employing the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education rubric, Morrison said Conrad was rated “proficient” in all 21 areas. “It was a strong performance in a strong year where we were finally putting most of Covid behind us,” said Morrison. “And we are in a good position for transition. The committee is quite grateful for your service.”