Michael Halt says goodbye; Ed Jerome will sit in
Superintendent of schools James Weiss asked retired principal Ed Jerome to take down the "gone fishing" sign from his door for a while. Mr. Jerome said yes, and yesterday the superintendent appointed him interim principal at West Tisbury School. Mr. Jerome will serve until the end of the school year in the absence of principal Michael Halt, who has been called to active duty as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve for the next 12 to 24 months.
"I consider it an honor to help the school out, and to help Michael while he is serving the country," Mr. Jerome said yesterday.
Mr. Weiss said he tapped Mr. Jerome for the job as a known quantity. "We had a very short time frame for getting someone, since Michael received his formal orders last week and has to report for duty on Monday," said Mr. Weiss. "I really looked for folks here on the Island who could help us."
Ed Jerome, interim West Tisbury principal until the end of the school year. Photo by Ben Scott
This will not be the first time Mr. Jerome, a highly regarded Vineyard educator, has been asked to step into the breach caused by a sudden departure.
In October 2005, Mr. Jerome, then the Edgartown School principal, did double duty when he agreed to serve as the so-called short-term interim superintendent a week after Kriner Cash, Island school superintendent for nine years, announced unexpectedly that he would leave his post to take a job in Dade County, Fla.
Mr. Jerome retired on Nov. 30, 2005 after 26 years as the principal of the Edgartown School. During that time he led the school to National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence status in 1999. Over the years, he received several honors and awards, and he also served as the president of the Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Since his retirement, he has worked as an educational consultant and a charter fisherman.
"I think he is the kind of person who can go up to West Tisbury School and keep things moving forward," Mr. Weiss said.
Mr. Jerome will work at the school three to four days a week through the end of the school year on June 30, when, Mr. Weiss said, he will review options for next year. "Michael could be away up to 24 months, and we will need to have plans in place in case that happens," he explained.
West Tisbury School assistant principal Bob Lane said Wednesday he is excited about working with Mr. Jerome, likening the experience to "an upstart baseball player getting to play with Babe Ruth or Ted Williams, brought out of retirement."
Last Wednesday, Mr. Halt and Mr. Weiss announced the news of his mobilization to the West Tisbury School staff in a meeting after school. Mr. Halt also sent a letter home with students informing parents that day.
Responding to Mr. Halt's news, Mr. Weiss informed the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee that he intended to name an interim principal early this week and met with them Monday night to discuss possible options. He announced Mr. Jerome's selection yesterday.
Mr. Halt reports for duty Monday to the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme, Calif. One bright spot about his posting is its proximity to Ventura, where his parents live.
As a reservist, Mr. Halt serves as a military advisor to the U.S. Navy Seabees in the 7th Naval Construction Regiment based in Newport, R.I. Since his unit will be activated into an active duty unit in Port Hueneme, Mr. Halt said he will be working with many Seabees he already knows. They will train in California for six to seven months, and then be deployed to Iraq, stationed out of Camp Fallujah. Mr. Halt said their mission ranges from building schools and combat outposts to infrastructure repair in Iraqi cities.
Mr. Halt studied political science in college and joined the U.S. Marine Corps upon graduation in 1987, after going through the ROTC program. After serving five years on active duty, he briefly considered becoming a police officer.
"I started thinking more about it and realized what I enjoyed most about the Marine Corps was working with people, helping them to achieve goals they thought were unobtainable," Mr. Halt said. Realizing the similarity between what he enjoyed in the Marine Corps and working in education led him to get his teaching certificate and start teaching in California.
Within only a few months of leaving the Marine Corps, however, Mr. Halt found he missed it. "It's truly part of who I am - it means everything to me," he said. He signed up as a reservist in October 1992 and has served 19 years as a Marine.
"There's a camaraderie that exists among Marines that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world, and it's important to me to be part of something bigger and more important than my individual self," Mr. Halt reflected. "I often joke I try to bring a little bit of the Marine Corps into the schoolroom and a little bit of the schoolroom into the Marine Corps, and I hope they both are better as a result."
Mr. Halt and his family moved to the Vineyard in 1997. He taught history at the regional high school for three years, before being appointed assistant principal in 2000. His wife Laurie teaches history there now.
Mr. Halt was appointed principal of West Tisbury School in September 2004.
News about Mr. Halt's upcoming departure brought forth an outpouring of concern and support for him and his family from the West Tisbury School community over the past week, with an assembly program planned today at the school at 2 pm to give him a big send-off.
"There are a lot of things we are going to miss: his hands-on leadership, his connection with the kids, and the amount of time he invests with each of them and each of the staff members," said fourth-grade teacher Mary Boyd. "It has been great watching the kids responding to him leaving, the outpouring of their feelings and their wonderful wishes for him as he goes on this journey."
Tracey Smith, mother of second-grader Livy and fifth grader Issy, also used the words "hands-on," as well as "kid-friendly," to describe Mr. Halt. He impressed her from the first day he arrived, she said, greeting Livy at the door by name on what was also her first day at the school as a kindergartener.
"I know my husband and I both admire his commitment to complete his military obligation and his desire to continue to set an example for the West Tisbury students," Ms. Smith said. "Whether or not you agree with the war, his commitment is what children need to see in the person who is their leader."
Her daughters grew emotional a few nights ago while talking about his departure, she said. "For an eight-year-old and an eleven-year-old, the war came home," Ms. Smith said. "This is someone they have in their lives five days a week. He was very careful to deal with it age-appropriately, and I respect that. My kids agree what he is doing is right, but their reservations are genuine."
Cynthia Bermudes, the school's Parent-Teacher Organization chair, appreciated how Mr. Halt kept her informed with a phone call about how her daughters, fourth-grader Anais and sixth-grader Paris, were doing in school. "He's a very, very caring individual who is concerned about every student in the school," she said.
Former teacher Martha Stackpole, who continues to be involved at West Tisbury School where she worked for 24 years, said she was fortunate to work with Mr. Halt during his first year as principal. It was her last year before retiring.
"I feel the way he started was a great way to finish my career, because I really enjoyed working with him," Ms. Stackpole said. "I just found him to be a very great listener and someone who loved kids. I think he really genuinely has a deep interest in how kids learn and how schools can run the best way they can."
Praising Mr. Halt's administrative skills, Ms. Stackpole said he is a good observer, who looks for what people are good at and draws upon that. "He's attentive to people, and will notice things about adults, as well as students, that are unique to them," she said.
Many in the West Tisbury School community plan to keep in contact with Mr. Halt as much as possible through e-mails and letters, and to offer support to his wife and three children, Maggie, Connor, and Cooper Johnson.
"He's definitely loved and will be truly missed," said West Tisbury School secretary Sue Merrill. "We wish him to come home sooner than his original plan, and to come home safely."