Donna Lowell-Bettencourt named interim special ed director


Donna Lowell-Bettencourt, West Tisbury School’s assistant principal, has agreed to serve as the interim director of student support services, overseeing special education for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS). Superintendent James Weiss notified school committee members and school administrators by email on Friday morning that she would step in to fill the position left vacant by Lynn Silva, the new director since July 1.

The All-Island School Committee voted to appoint Ms. Silva, on Mr. Weiss’s recommendation, at a meeting on May 30. She was hired to replace Dan Seklecki, the former director for almost 29 years, and assumed her new job the day after his retirement date of June 30.

Ms. Silva resigned, effective July 5, for what she said were personal and health reasons, Mr. Weiss said in an email in response to questions emailed from The Times.

“We need someone who can step in quickly and keep the numerous SPED [special education] programs and issues well in hand,” Mr. Weiss wrote in his email to school committee and school administrators. “After much deliberation, I have asked Donna Lowell-Bettencourt to become our interim director for the year, and she has agreed to assume that position as we begin our administrative retreat in early August.”

Ms. Silva’s selection culminated a difficult search process to find a replacement for Mr. Selecki, who submitted a letter last July stating his plans to retire in January 2012.

After an initial search in October and November 2011 failed to yield any suitable candidates, he agreed to postpone his retirement and stay on the job until June 30, 2012. Mr. Weiss requested and received permission from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional HIgh School District school committee to spend $15,000 from excess and deficiency funds to hire the services of the executive search group of the Cape Cod Collaborative (CCC). The regional high school is one of its 12 member school districts.

A second search was conducted with the assistance of Joe Gilbert of the CCC, who prescreened candidates and came up with five finalists to recommend, who more closely matched the MVPS criteria.

As a result, Ms. Silva, the director of student services for the Brewer School Department in Brewer, Maine, was selected for the job by an Island committee made up of assistant superintendent Laurie Halt, parents, an NAACP representative, teachers, special education professionals, and school administrators from across the Island.

“Since Lynn Silva’s surprising and rapid departure, I have been talking with numerous folks to secure a suitable interim replacement,” Mr. Weiss said in his July 27 email. “It has been a challenge, as you can probably understand.”

Mr. Weiss said he did not believe another search would be successful at this time of the year, so he again followed the same steps in seeking an interim director as for a director, by talking with local SPED educators, several recent retirees, and Cape Cod school administrators. Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt came out at the top of his list.

“Donna has licenses in both regular and special education and as an administrator and has taught or administrated in several buildings here on the Island,” Mr. Weiss said in his email. “I know she will work thoughtfully with our other Special Education leaders to keep the programs as well run as ever. Thankfully, Dan has agreed to work with her over the next few weeks so that transition will be as easy as possible.”

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt responded by email to a request for comment from The Times.”As I move into this new interim position, I look forward to working with students, families, and staff members building on the rich history of excellence in special education that has defined the Vineyard,” Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said Monday. “I hope to continue and strengthen the strong relationships and innovative and effective programs that Dan Seklecki and the special education staff across the island have developed and implemented.”

This is not the first time Mr. Weiss tapped Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt to step up to the plate to help fill a crucial administrative position. He selected the former librarian and media specialist at Edgartown School as interim assistant principal at West Tisbury School in 2010. Assistant principal Bob Lane was tapped as interim principal following principal Michael Halt’s deployment in January that year as a U.S. Marine Corps reservist for active duty in Afghanistan.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt was promoted to interim principal following Bob Lane’s retirement in June 2010, while principal Michael Halt was deployed as a U.S. Marine Corps reservist to serve a tour of active duty in Afghanistan through April 2011. Mr. Weiss appointed her assistant principal at West Tisbury School last summer.

“I will work with Principal Mike Halt over the next few weeks to seek a suitable replacement for Donna at West Tisbury School for the year,” Mr. Weiss said in concluding his email.