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MVRHS principal

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Gil Traverso, pictured here after a visit to the school in June, has accepted the position of principal of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. — File photo by Janet Hefler

Superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools James Weiss announced Tuesday that Gilbert Traverso has accepted the principal’s job at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS). Mr. Traverso is currently principal of the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield.

“Mr. Traverso is a seasoned principal with a proven track record of leadership,” Mr. Weiss said in an email to The Times late Tuesday afternoon. “I believe his personality and experience are an excellent match for our high school.”

Mr. Weiss said that although the details of Mr. Traverso’s contract remain to be finalized, he expects the new principal will be on the Island before the start of the 2014-15 school year in September.

“He comes here after four years as Principal of the Putnam Academy in Springfield, and I was impressed with the positive comments I received as I talked with his direct supervisor and the superintendent who hired him,” Mr. Weiss said.

Mr. Weiss said that he planned to leave for a vacation in Maine. He said once he returns he will finalize a contract and exact start date.

“My family and I were elated at the news of being selected as the new principal of such a high performing high school,” Mr. Traverso said in an email to The Times Wednesday. “Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School has an impressive staff and great student performance results. I look forward to the opportunity to enhance what is already working well and welcome any challenges for improvement.

“I am grateful that the school committee and superintendent Weiss have selected me to be the next leader for the high school.

“Of course, the change will be bittersweet due to the fact that I am leaving behind an incredible school district and city. I look forward to settling in and actually finding a place to live on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Quick search

The selection of Mr. Traverso concludes a process that began in May, following the resignation of former principal Stephen Nixon, principal since 2008, on April 28. Mr. Weiss appointed Assistant Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea as acting principal to fill in until a new principal was hired.

He also acted quickly to put together a nine-member search committee that included himself, several teachers, a parent, a student, an administrator from the high school, an elementary school principal, and a representative from the NAACP by mid May. The committee selected 10 candidates for interviews, and six came to Martha’s Vineyard for interviews during the first week of June.

Three semi-finalists, including Mr. Traverso and David Maxwell, assistant principal of Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, were invited to come back for daylong visits to MVRHS, to meet with administrative staff, faculty, high school committee members, students, and parents. One candidate dropped out.

“It’s a great school,” Mr. Traverso told The Times, after talking with students and faculty the morning of his visit on June 18. “The students are wonderful; I love their questions. The staff has been asking very pertinent questions, which I would ask if I was a staff member. And they should, because the staff is keeping this place at the level it is, and they deserve the credit.”

Everyone that met with the two candidates received a feedback form asking for their opinions of both candidates, which Mr. Weiss reviewed in making his selection.

Turnaround

Mr. Traverso, 55, was appointed principal at Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in 2010, according to a copy of his resumé provided to The Times.

The vocational technical high school provides academic and vocational instruction to approximately 1,632 students in grades nine through twelve throughout the Springfield area. The school offers 19 trades.

Mr. Traverso has been credited with transforming the school from one with serious discipline problems and struggling academic performance to a school with dramatically improved behavior and rising test scores and graduation rates.

Previously, Mr. Traverso worked for 14 years as as a technical high school administrator in Connecticut Technical High Schools, supervising and leading staff in the areas of teaching and learning. Mr. Traverso also has served since 2007 as a diversity and inclusion trainer for the Anti-Defamation League.

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The finalists include a member of the Wampanoag tribe from Iowa and a Springfield man credited with turning around a troubled vocational school.

Gil Traverso, pictured here after a visit to the school in June, has accepted the position of principal of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. — File photo by Janet Hefler

Martha’s Vineyard school officials have turned to the mainland to fill the job of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) principal left vacant by the departure of Stephen Nixon this spring.

Superintendent of schools James Weiss and a search committee have narrowed the field of candidates to Gilbert Traverso, principal of the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield, and David Maxwell, assistant principal of Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Although born and raised in Iowa, Mr. Maxwell has ties to Martha’s Vineyard as a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. His mother, Arenda “Bunny” Maxwell, who goes by the last name Randolph, and aunt, Charity Randolph, live in Oak Bluffs.

Both men are scheduled to visit the high school this week to meet with the administrative staff, the faculty, school committee members, and students.

The final decision of who to hire rests with Mr. Weiss.

Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School provides academic and vocational instruction to students in grades nine through twelve for approximately 1,632 throughout the Springfield area. The school offers 19 trades.

Valley High School is a three-year comprehensive high school with an enrollment of approximately 1,900 students, according to the school website. The campus is located in West Des Moines, Iowa’s largest suburb, a community of approximately 55,000 residents bordering the western city limits of Des Moines.

Gilbert Traverso

Mr. Traverso, 55, was appointed principal at Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in 2010, according to a copy of his resumé provided to The Times. Previously, he worked for 14 years as as a technical high school administrator in Connecticut Technical High Schools, supervising and leading staff in the areas of teaching and learning. Mr. Traverso also has served since 2007 as a diversity and inclusion trainer for the Anti-Defamation League.

“My extensive knowledge of instruction, supervision, diversity, procurement, policy-making and data driven decision-making make me an excellent candidate for the position of Principal of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School,” Mr. Traverso wrote in his cover letter.

He noted that under his leadership, Putnam Vocational Technical Academy has been transformed from a failing school into a credible educational resource for students. In addition, Mr. Traverso said, “I have had to navigate successfully through seven different union contracts while effectively creating a positive culture of change.”

An editorial published January 12, 2014 in The Republican highlighted Mr. Traverso as one of three Springfield high school principals responsible for successful turnarounds at their schools.

The change at Putnam has been, perhaps, the most dramatic,” the Republican said. “In the span of four years, the old ‘trade’ school has been transformed from a school with serious discipline problems and struggling academic performance to a school with dramatically improved behavior and rising test scores and graduation rates.”

At the high school on Wednesday, Mr. Traverso spoke briefly with The Times. He said he was really enjoying his visit so far, having met with students and the faculty in the morning.

It’s a great school,” Mr. Traverso said. “The students are wonderful; I love their questions. The staff has been asking very pertinent questions, which I would ask if I was a staff member. And they should, because the staff is keeping this place at the level it is, and they deserve the credit.”

Asked what attracted him to apply for the job, Mr. Traverso said, I wasn’t looking for a principal’s job, but this one got both my wife and myself intrigued.” He said now that Putnam Vocational Technical Academy is operating so successfully, he is ready for a change.

Mr. Traverso and his wife have two biological children and took in another boy when he was a child. Since they are grown, Mr. Traverso said, “The only thing I have to worry about are two dogs, and they will adjust to having a lot of runs and room to roam.”

David Maxwell

David Maxwell has Island roots.
David Maxwell has Island roots.

Mr. Maxwell, 43, has served as associate principal at Valley High School since 2005, according to his resume. Previously, he worked three years as dean of students at Hoover High School in Des Moines, after earning his master’s of education degree in 2002.

Mr. Maxwell began his career in education as a language arts instructor. He spent eight years teaching ninth and eleventh grade language arts and African-American Studies.

“The most important aspect of my role as associate principal, of my role as a public educator, is creating, fostering, and sustaining meaningful relationships with all stakeholders, most importantly students,” Mr. Maxwell wrote in his cover letter. “After serving nine years in this role, I feel I am ready to lead a building and continue to grow as a public school administrator.”

Mr. Maxwell received news of an opening the old-fashioned way. “My mother informed me of this position when it was first posted, and I thought, ‘I’ll throw my name in the ring and see what happens,’” Mr. Maxwell told The Times in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I had a good interview and was fortunate enough to be invited for a visit this week.”

During his interview with the search committee, Mr. Maxwell said Mr. Weiss asked him how realistic it would be for him to move to Martha’s Vineyard.

I said I’ll be honest with you, it would have to be a perfect alignment of the stars,” Mr. Maxwell said. “Even though I have Island ties, I was born and raised in Iowa, and I work in a fabulous school district. So it’s a win-win situation for me. If it doesn’t work out, I’m able to work in a wonderful district, and if the stars do align perfectly, I’ll look forward to the opportunity to work on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Relocating his family is a big consideration, he added, as he and his wife have three children, ages 15, 11 and 8.

The search process

Mr. Weiss announced the resignation of former principal Stephen Nixon, principal since 2008, on April 28. Mr. Weiss granted Mr. Nixon a leave of absence for health reasons. The next day, Mr. Weiss appointed Assistant Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea as acting principal to fill in until a new principal was hired.

At a meeting on May 5, the MVRHS school committeeaccepted Mr. Nixon’s resignation, effective at the end of the school year. Mr. Weiss gave the committee a copy of a principal search timeline, which he said would be a relatively quick process.

He had already posted the job on SchoolSpring.com, an online site for teaching and school jobs.

Mr. Weiss put together a search committee that included several teachers, a parent, a student, an administrator from the high school, an elementary school principal, and a representative from the NAACP by mid May.

We ended up with eight on the committee, in addition to me,” he told The Times after an Up-Island school committee meeting Monday night. “We did not get a representative from the Tribe, although we did ask them.”

Mr. Weiss said the search committee received about 35 No in-house candidates applied.

Mr. Maxwell was one of several off-Island candidates who had ties to Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Weiss said that factor did not weigh into the search committee’s decision on the finalists.

Although the committee worked very quickly, Mr. Weiss said it was still late in the year as far as the educator hiring process goes. We approached the interviews with ten candidates, and by the time we actually had that date, we only had six,” he said. “Four had already gotten jobs and withdrew. So that’s what you face.”

The initial interviews with the six semi-finalists were conducted on Martha’s Vineyard during the first week in June, with the exception of Mr. Maxwell, who was interviewed via Skype. The search committee then selected three finalists to return for visits this week, but one withdrew, leaving Mr. Traverso and Mr. Maxwell.

When asked what made them rise to the top, Mr. Weiss said, “These two were the most qualified of those interested, and had the best experience and interviews.”

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The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) school committee voted Monday night to accept the resignation of principal Stephen Nixon, effective at the end of the school year. Superintendent of schools James Weiss announced the resignation on April 28 after he had granted Mr. Nixon, principal since 2008, a leave of absence for health reasons.

Mr. Weiss said he appointed Assistant Superintendent Matthew D’Andrea as acting principal on April 29, the day he received Mr. Nixon’s resignation letter. Mr. Weiss said the goal is for Mr. D’Andrea to fill the job until a new principal is hired, working four days a week at the high school and one at the superintendent’s office.

Mr. Weiss said he mapped out a relatively quick process, and he gave the committee a copy of a principal search timeline. The job is already posted on SchoolSpring.com, an online site for teaching and school jobs. Mr. Weiss said his goal is to select a search committee of 8 to 12 people, including school committee members, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community and organization members, by May 12. The position posting will close on May 21, the committee will review applications and select interviewees by May 27, and begin initial interviews the week of June 2.

In other business, the committee heard a proposal from Kimberly Burke and Herb Kiehn of the Oak Bluffs Finance and Advisory Committee about using a three-year enrollment average for towns to determine their high school assessments. The committee voted to table the topic in order to get more financial information.

The school committee also voted to approve second readings on policies regarding student absences and excuses and student conduct and discipline. The committee scheduled its next meeting for June 2 and final meeting of the school year on June 23, both at 7 pm.