West Tisbury principal Michael Halt accepts job in California

Michael Halt, shown in the fall, the new principal of San Clemente High School. — File photo by Janet Hefler

West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt has accepted a job as the principal at San Clemente High School in California. Mr. Halt announced his decision and his plans to leave at the end of the school year to his staff last Thursday afternoon. Superintendent of schools James Weiss moved quickly this week to replace Mr. Halt.

At a meeting of the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee Tuesday night, at Mr. Weiss’s recommendation, the committee agreed to begin a search for a new principal immediately. Mr. Weiss said he would rather hire a replacement before school starts next September than appoint an interim principal.

“My logic there is that the school over the last number of years has gone through a lot of change,” Mr. Weiss told The Times in a phone conversation Wednesday morning. “It has done very well, but I think it needs a full-time principal to be appointed. And I believe there are, on the Island and on the Cape, enough possible candidates so that we could find someone who could be in place prior to the opening of school. And that really is my goal, to appoint that person on a permanent basis.”

Mr. Halt was appointed West Tisbury School principal in 2004. In addition, he is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and holds the rank of colonel in the USMC Reserve.

Mr. Halt was called up for active duty in January 2007 for a tour in Iraq and did not return until October 2007. He was deployed again in January 2010 for a tour in Afghanistan until April 2011. In each case, an interim principal was named.

Mr. Weiss said he plans to move rapidly. He said he will begin advertising for a new principal this week.

“I basically committed myself to organizing a parent forum, which I’m working on as we speak, and a staff forum, to give people an opportunity to voice their feelings about the search and the kind of person they’d like,” Mr. Weiss said.

Much appreciation

Mr. Weiss said he and school committee members also took the opportunity Tuesday to congratulate Mr. Halt, who also attended the meeting, and tell him they are sorry to see him go. Mr. Halt, in turn, thanked the West Tisbury School community.

“This is a great opportunity for him,” Mr. Weiss said. “He’s been here on and off for nine years, and he’s been very good to the school and for the school, and this is going to be a change for Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools [MVPS].”

Mr. Halt’s wife, Laurie, has served as the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for MVPS since July 2007. In an email from The Times last week, she said she plans to resign from her MVPS job and move to California with her husband, but she is not sure of the exact date yet.

Ms. Halt had also been exploring other career options. In March, Ms. Halt was selected as one of four finalists for the job of superintendent for Falmouth Public Schools, but she was not hired.

“Mike is going, Laurie is going, and I have mixed feelings,” Mr. Weiss said. “I’m happy for them, but there is going to be some upheaval for a while. We’ll do what we have to do.”

A good match

In a phone conversation with The Times Tuesday night, Mr. Halt said he feels very fortunate and very excited about being selected as San Clemente High School’s new principal.

Located in Orange County, the school has approximately 3,000 students and a staff of more than 200 administrators and teachers.

Mr. Halt moved to the Island in 1997 to take a job as a history teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He was appointed high school assistant principal in 2000.

“I went to West Tisbury School because I was excited about the principalship, and I fell in love with the school,” Mr. Halt said. “But I kept the thought of getting back to the high school level in the back of my mind.”

Mr. Halt said he found out about the San Clemente High School principal’s job about three weeks ago through an email about the Capistrano Unified School District’s nationwide search, and decided to throw his hat in the ring.

“What they were looking for as an educational leader is perfectly in sync with my beliefs in what I want to be doing, so it looked like a perfect match,” he said. “San Clemente is a phenomenal school. I’m really excited about what the future will hold for us out there.”

Mr. Halt said it all happened very quickly. He submitted an application and received a phone call three days later asking him to come for an initial interview. He was called back for a final interview two days later, on May 17.

Mr. Halt said the search committee had done its homework. “They were kind in pointing out that there are more students at San Clemente High School than on the Vineyard as a whole,” he noted with a laugh. “But as I said, when you take a look at what it takes to move large organizations forward, the goals, objectives and methods are similar, no matter what size the organization is.”

Mr. Halt said he found the San Clemente community to be similar in many ways to the Vineyard’s.

“Whether during my time in the classroom or as an administrator, I have loved everything about our schools on Martha’s Vineyard — our students, teachers, parents, and the community support,” Mr. Halt said. “I didn’t want to go to another place that didn’t have that same commitment, that same quest for excellence.”

The Capistrano Unified School District issued a news release announcing that the district’s trustees appointed Mr. Halt principal on May 22.

“Having conducted a nationwide search, we have found a natural leader who will continue to lead San Clemente High School on its current trajectory of success,” trustees president John M. Alpay said. “Michael Halt’s experiences as a combat officer and school administrator will serve him well as he becomes an integral part of our community.”

Mr. Halt said he plans to finish 30 years in the USMC Reserve, which he will achieve in 2017. “San Clemente happens to be is literally right next door to Camp Pendleton, one of the Marine Corps’s largest installations,” he pointed out. “A large percentage of kids who attend the high school are from the base and there are a lot of military families in the community, so I see potential in that for an easy transition for me.”

Mr. Halt said although the Capistrano Unified School District would like him to start his new job on July 1, his current MVPS contract runs through June 30. “We’re working on figuring out when; it all depends on how quickly I can get out there after I wrap everything up here,” he said.

A difficult goodbye

Mr. Halt said he will be sad to leave West Tisbury School, as well as the Vineyard. “We have a great staff and accomplished great things together, and fantastic students that make this school so great,” he said. “I’m going to miss them all.”

Mr. Halt said he and his wife will always maintain a connection with the Vineyard. Her three children, and his step-children, Maggie, Connor, and Cooper Johnson, are all MVRHS graduates.

“Laurie is from here, a fourth-generation Islander, I fell in love with her here, and we raised our kids here,” he said. “When we start to miss it the most, that’s when we’ll be coming back for a visit.”