Up-Island schools off to a "fresh start" under new leadership
As the 2004-2005 school year officially commences today, up-Island schools are off to a much-needed fresh start, according to Vineyard schools superintendent Kriner Cash, who appointed interim principals Michael Halt and Diane Gandy last week, after a month-long search.
Mr. Halt, 39, is leaving his assistant principal post at Martha's Vineyard High School to assume the top position at West Tisbury School. Diane Gandy, 56, former principal of the K-5 Juniper Hill School in Framingham and a longtime Oak Bluffs summer resident, will take the controls at Chilmark School.
The two search committees voted unanimously last Wednesday night to appoint both Mr. Halt and Ms. Gandy with one-year contracts.
"I am excited. We've got a good - no, a great - team in place up-Island," said Dr. Cash, who said that the search process, although relatively short in duration, was extremely thorough.
The fact that all interest groups represented in the search reached agreement from among nine qualified candidates, "is a very optimistic and encouraging sign both for the principals and for the community," he said. "It wasn't fractious or contentious. It was consensus."
Speaking on the strengths of each selected candidate, Dr. Cash expressed enthusiasm and confidence. "All the references I called for Ms. Gandy - former superintendents, principals, colleagues - all said she was extremely cool and calm under fire, which of course is important. They said she is a good communicator with parents, loves her students, and that everything she did focused on their interests." He also mentioned that she had taught at the elementary level, which might come in handy if they find that the school in fact needs a teacher. (Right now, he said the only vacancy at Chilmark is for a part-time Spanish teacher, a position for which Ms. Gandy is not qualified.)
As for Mr. Halt, Dr. Cash said that the West Tisbury community needed someone with vitality and a fresh focus who could help bring the staff back together and concentrate on the positive, every day. He said Mr. Halt's natural temperament and enthusiasm makes a good fit.
Did Dr. Cash find the atmosphere to be negative under Elaine Pace, the former West Tisbury principal who resigned in late July after declining a one-year contract after three years serving? "No. I didn't feel that way," he said. "But I have to listen to my constituency. It was a feeling people were expressing during this process. I had to respect the overall sentiment. I was concerned about staff. If the staff is happy, the kids are happy, and if the kids are happy, the parents are happy. It's a domino effect."
The immediate goal for both principals, according to Dr. Cash, is to successfully open the two schools, and that is especially challenging for Chilmark. "Diane has the challenge of her school building being not ready to open," said Dr. Cash. New linoleum flooring is still undergoing installation, forcing the closing of the building these next few days. K-3 students have been relocated to the old Menemsha School, and grades four and five will be housed in the Chilmark Library before they ship out for a week aboard the Shenandoah.