Philip Campbell named Vineyard public schools SPED director

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. — File photo by Susan Safford

Philip Campbell, a special education (SPED) administrator in Auburn, has been named the director of student support services for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS). Superintendent of schools James Weiss informed The Times that he selected Mr. Campbell in a phone call Monday afternoon. Mr. Weiss said although the details of Mr. Campbell’s contract are in the final stages of negotiation, he plans to start work in November. Retired former SPED administrators Ralph Friedman and Ed Orenstein are covering the director’s job in the interim.

Mr. Weiss said Mr. Campbell, who is currently the director of pupil services for the Auburn Public Schools, “rose to the top very quickly” among three candidates interviewed.

“He has many years of experience, as a special education director in a couple of schools districts and also in non-school positions, such as being the director of a collaborative,” Mr. Weiss said. “In addition to a lot of experience, his interpersonal skills are very good, and I think he will fit in on the Island very well.”

Mr. Weiss said he invited Mr. Campbell spend a day visiting Island schools last week, and as a result of that visit, offered him the job on Monday.

“I can honestly tell you I’m very excited,” Mr. Campbell told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday. “I was very impressed from my first discussions with Dr. Weiss, and then he was very generous with his time beyond my initial interview. I had the opportunity last week to meet teachers, building administrators and principals, and school committee members, and to an individual, I was very impressed with their commitment to the students.

“But overall,’ he added, “I think my impression was that the school district sees itself as an integral part of the broader community, and that everybody is trying to work as a team together. And I think that that is really what I saw as being so attractive about the opportunity to join that team effort. ”

Mr. Campbell, who is in his early 60’s, said he has always worked with either adults or children with disabilities, and has had the advantage of experience in both the public and private sectors.

“I think it’s an asset to have worked as a classroom teacher, building principal, and in district-wide positions, but I’ve also worked as a direct care worker in the private sector and in supervisory roles,” he said. “And I’ve worked in a policy position for the state, and in the advocacy community directly, working for a board of directors made up of primarily parents and brothers and sisters of people with disabilities.”

Mr. Campbell said having that combination of experience is especially important nowadays, when the goal for all students, including those in special education, is to prepare them for adulthood.

“And whether or not that is to be a lifelong learner or to go directly into the workforce or to go on to community colleges or technical schools or four-year colleges, having an awareness of either that support system or those options, I think, is critically important today, maybe even more than it was 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Campbell said he was very impressed when he toured the Island’s school buildings, and also by the fact the school district has its own transportation system, which is used in support of off-Island activities. He also recognizes the challenges that Martha’s Vineyard faces as an Island, in having to provide all students with all services.

“My sense is that the citizens of the Island in each of the individual towns, and more regionally through, specifically, the high school, have come to pull together to provide for their children and their brothers and sisters,” Mr. Campbell said.

“So even though I think the communities on the Island do face an additional burden in being an Island, I think they’ve reacted to that with a certain character that is very attractive for somebody coming in, wanting to become a member of a strong community,” he added.

Mr. Campbell received a B.A. degree in American History from UMass at Amherst and a Master of Education in Leadership degree from Worcester State University. In addition, he has state certifications to be a school superintendent, SPED administrator, and secondary school principal.

“As soon as we finish our negotiations I am going to start working very hard to find a place to live on the Island, and make the move, and to learn more about the community to see how I can contribute, not just in the school system, but even beyond the school system,” Mr. Campbell said.

His selection brings Mr. Weiss a welcome close to a long process to fill the director of student support services position. Former director Dan Seklecki submitted a letter to Mr. Weiss in July 2011 stating his plans to retire, after 29 years, in January 2012.

After an initial search in October and November 2011 failed to yield any suitable candidates his replacement, Mr. Seklecki agreed to postpone his retirement and stay on the job until June 30, 2012.

After another search conducted by a Island search committee with the help of the Cape Cod Collaborative executive search group, Mr. Weiss hired Lynn Silva, a SPED administrator from Brewer, Maine, to start on July 1, 2012. However, she resigned after four days on the job, citing personal and health reasons.

With little time to conduct another search before school started, after consulting with local SPED educators, recent MVPS retirees, and Cape Cod school administrators, Mr. Weiss tapped Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, West Tisbury School’s former assistant principal, to oversee SPED starting in August 2012. Although she agreed in February 2013 to remain the interim director for at least another year, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt applied for and was selected to be West Tisbury School’s principal in June, when Michael Halt resigned to take a principal’s job in California. Mr. Weiss hired Mr. Friedman and Mr. Orenstein in August.