NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 27, 2014

Changes proposed in Pentucket leadership

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — WEST NEWBURY — Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen is considering a couple of changes to key administrative positions in the Pentucket Regional School District. But some on the school board want more input from parents and teachers before moving ahead with the plans.

At a recent meeting, Mulqueen described a scenario in which high school Principal Jonathan Seymour would permanently expand his responsibilities to include principalship of the middle school. It’s a role Seymour is currently filling on a temporary basis through the end of this school year.

Seymour was assigned the additional responsibilities when Jack O’Mara, former principal of Page Elementary School, retired in December. Mulqueen moved middle school Principal Debra Lay to fill O’Mara’s post until June, and tapped Seymour to cover for Lay, as well as continue in his post at the high school.

Subsequently, Lay announced that she would be leaving Pentucket at the end of this school year, and the search was on to find a replacement for her.

Continuing the current model with Seymour at the helm would provide continuity and consistency for staff, students and parents, Mulqueen said. The salary scheduled for the principal position would be used in part to hire a new assistant principal at the middle school, he added.

School Committee representative Jill Eichhorst of West Newbury advised Mulqueen that she was already hearing from some parents concerned about how this switch might impact the athletic program at the secondary level, and if middle and high school students would compete for the same limited spots on Pentucket varsity teams.

Mulqueen responded that it was an issue that merited separate discussion, and should not be lumped in with a decision on the idea of shared principalship.

When Mulqueen told the committee of his plan to hold two meetings — one with his staff and another with parents — to discuss the proposed change, West Newbury’s Chris Reading indicated she would like to attend both meetings. Reading said she had feedback from a few teachers regarding the proposal and felt it would be helpful to her understanding of the issues surrounding it if she could listen to Mulqueen’s discussion with the staff.

But Mulqueen said although she was welcome to attend his meeting with parents, he would prefer to meet privately with his own staff and then report back to the board after that meeting. When Reading again indicated her desire to be present during the staff meeting “just to be able to get my arms around” any issues teachers might have, Mulqueen pushed back, saying, “I will just convey my strong sense that I would much prefer to work with my staff and then come back to you.”

A second change under consideration involves repurposing the assistant principal positions at Page and the Bagnall Elementary School in Groveland. The change would make room for a full-time school support coordinator shared by both buildings to aid students with social-emotional issues and other special needs.

Mulqueen argued that the assistant principal position “is in many ways a duplication of expertise.” The change offers financial savings and allows principals to focus more on the instructional functions of the school, in keeping with the expectations of the state’s new educator evaluation system. This model would align more with the administrative team in Merrimac’ s two elementary schools. Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury make up the regional school district.

At the request of the School Committee, Mulqueen will flush out the details of this plan and then present it to teachers and parents for feedback.

The superintendent also reported that the Page School Principal Selection committee had whittled a pool of 49 applicants for O’Mara’s position to two candidates. The two candidates will meet with Page staff from 3:15 to 3:45 and with parents from 4 to 5 p.m.

Following the meeting Eichhorst urged anyone wishing to comment on any of these issues to contact Mulqueen or the School Committee representative from their town.