Donna Lowell-Bettencourt is the new West Tisbury principal

Monday, West Tisbury School teachers said goodbye for the summer to their students. In September, they will welcome new faces and a new principal.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Monday, West Tisbury School teachers said goodbye for the summer to their students. In September, they will welcome new faces and a new principal.

Making quick work of a search process that began only last month, superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard schools James Weiss has appointed Donna Lowell-Bettencourt the new principal of the West Tisbury School.

“We did interviews last night of three finalists, and it was pretty clear from the interviews that the search committee’s sense was that Donna was the best candidate for the position,” Mr. Weiss said in a telephone conversation Wednesday, June 26.

“Really,” he added, “it’s a good fit, and I think people will be pleased there.”

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt, 43, will replace Michael Halt, who announced on May 22 that he had accepted a job as the principal at San Clemente High School in California.

“I am honored to be named the new principal of the West Tisbury School,” Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said in an email to The Times. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to connect with the staff, students, and families so we can build on the success of the school and accomplish great things together.”

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt, currently the interim director of Student Support Services for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, knows her way around the West Tisbury School.

In 2010, Mr. Weiss picked the former librarian and media specialist at Edgartown School to be interim assistant principal at West Tisbury School. The school’s assistant principal, Bob Lane, was made interim principal following Mr. Halt’s deployment in January that year to Afghanistan. Mr. Halt is a U.S. Marine Corps reservist.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt was promoted to interim principal following Mr. Lane’s retirement in June 2010, while Mr. Halt served a tour of active duty in Afghanistan through April 2011.

Mr. Weiss said it has been important to move quickly to fill the vacancy created with the announcement in May that Mr. Halt planned to leave at the end of the school year.

“I really felt we had to,” Mr. Weiss said. “The one thing that everybody in West Tisbury said was, do it quickly and do it permanently. They need stability, they need somebody they know is going to be there. So we heard that loud and clear and tried to honor that.”

The search for a new principal moved briskly.

Last Monday, Mr. Weiss announced at a regularly scheduled school committee meeting that he had put a search committee together, with approval from school committee chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter. The committee planned to meet that night with the expectation that interviews would begin this week.

The search committee members included school committee members, teachers, parents and representatives of community organizations.

Seven candidates applied for the job, four from Martha’s Vineyard and three from off Island. That group was narrowed to three: Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt, assistant West Tisbury School principal Mary Boyd; and Deborah Hammett, a teacher at the Oak Bluffs School.

Mr. Weiss said his decision leaves him with some rearranging to do. In February, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt agreed to serve at least another year as the interim director of Student Support Services.

“Donna has done a fantastic job this year organizing our work for the DESE’s [Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] Coordinated Program Review of the elementary schools on the Island, bringing leadership to our special education services and programs and providing excellent coordination with the six schools on the Island,” Mr. Weiss wrote in a press release emailed to the Times on February 22.

Mr. Weiss tapped Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt to oversee special education (SPED) starting in August 2012. The director’s position was left vacant by Lynn Silva, newly appointed on July 1, 2012, who abruptly resigned after four days, citing personal and health reasons.

Ms. Silva was hired to replace former director Dan Seklecki upon his retirement on June 30, 2012, after 29 years.