BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Jack O’Mara, head of the Dr. John C. Page Elementary School for the past three years, announced this week he plans to retire as principal at the end of the year.
In a recent interview, O’Mara described the ongoing $10 million renovation project at Page as his “swan song” and said seeing the job through to its fruition was the reason he didn’t just retire this past June but instead decided to wait until December. The project is slated for completion later this fall.
O’Mara, who has been on the Page Building Committee from the project’s inception, said he felt “pretty passionate about being a part of that final ribbon-cutting ceremony and watching the faces of the children as they see their beautiful new gym and cafetorium.”
But O’Mara’s decision to step down in the middle of the school year has prompted Pentucket Superintendent Jeffrey Mulqueen to hold off on hiring a replacement until next year. Instead, he will tap Middle School Principal Debra Lay to run the West Newbury elementary school on an interim basis, from January to June 2014.
“It is essential that the district’s initiatives, particularly educator evaluation, are implemented seamlessly,” said Mulqueen. “Dr. Lay will provide the support needed to ensure continuity at Page School as we transition to a new system of educator evaluation and a new school leader.”
And the superintendent has asked high school Principal Jonathan Seymour to expand his range of responsibilities to include the middle school.
“I am confident in the ability of Mr. Seymour and the high school and middle school administrative teams to support the needs of students, parents and our staff members at the middle and high schools,” Mulqueen said.
The search for someone to take over the helm at Page begins later this winter, with the goal of having the new principal in place before July 1, 2014.
“We want to secure the best educational leader for Page School, someone who will be a good fit with our community and our district’s World Class future,” said Mulqueen, noting that the ideal candidate will be a person of intellect and integrity who is comfortable working with a broad range of people.
He plans to assemble a search committee composed of parents, community members and educators in November to participate in the initial interview process and act in an advisory capacity. The first round of interviews will occur in January; finalists will visit the school and interview with Mulqueen in February. He hopes to name O’Mara’s successor by March 14.
In reflecting on his 44-year career in education, O’Mara said it has always been “first and foremost about the children.” He’s proud of the teaching staff assembled at Page, calling them “stellar and unbelievably coachable.”
“If I make a suggestion, a teacher will turn that instructional nuance into an art form. If I ask a staff person or team to attend a conference, they will change their students’ whole world with the knowledge they gain and the skills they bring back.”
Leadership is fairly simple, said the veteran educator: It’s primarily about letting people know how much you care. That’s why he rolled up his own sleeves and put so much personal effort into making the grounds look presentable on opening day of school, even if it meant — as it did one year — starting the school year with a bad case of poison ivy.
O’Mara said the extra effort was “a metaphor for how I looked at my job and what I was willing to give to Page School — whatever it takes.”
Noting that the renovation at Page is the 9th — and final — school construction project of his career, O’Mara recalled the old Boy Scout ethic that “a good camper leaves the campground in better shape than when he found it.”
“When I walk out of Page School on that very last day in December, the campground will be just a little bit better than it was when I found it,” he said.