MVRHS principal search narrowed to three off-Island finalists

The two men and one woman will visit Martha’s Vineyard next month.

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School — Photo by Michael Cummo

The search for a new Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) principal was narrowed from 20 to three candidates this week. “Three candidates emerged that were seen as exciting choices to lead MVRHS,” the assistant superintendent of public schools, Richie Smith, said in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon.

The finalists are Sara Dingledy, the current principal of Westchester Square Academy of New York City and former assistant headmaster of the Brooklyn Latin School; David Fabrizio, the current principal of Ipswich Middle School in Ipswich, and former assistant principal of North Andover Middle School in North Andover; and David Williams, former principal of York Middle School in York, Maine, and former assistant principal of Newmarket High School in Newmarket, N.H.

The next step in the selection process is an Island visit. Mr. Fabrizio will visit on Wednesday, Jan. 13, Mr. Williams on Jan. 14, and Ms. Dingledy on Jan. 15.

“We will invite staff, students, parents, and community members to visit on each of the days, so that everyone has the opportunity to meet the candidates and offer input regarding the candidates to Superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Dr. Matt D’Andrea,” Mr. Smith said.

According to the release, details regarding the visits and methods for providing feedback will be posted on the high school’s Edline, an online school information site.

Interviews with the three finalists will appear on MVTV Public Access Channel 15 over the next three weeks. The first airing of all three interviews will be Wednesday, Dec. 30 beginning at 6 pm.

Mr. D’Andrea will review feedback from students, staff, parents, and the community, and choose two final candidates. At that point, Mr. D’Andrea and a “small, representative contingent” will visit the current or former schools of the finalists.

Mr. D’Andrea will make the final decision based on those site visits.

“We hope the process will conclude in early February with the naming of the new principal,” Mr. Smith said.

Island factor considered

The three candidates have varying degrees of Island familiarity, Mr. Smith told The Times in a phone conversation late Wednesday. He said Ms. Dingledy worked as a waitress on the Island for a year in the 1990s. She has vacationed here, and still has friends who live on the Island. Mr. Williams is a friend of the former assistant superintendent Margaret Harris. Mr. Fabrizio, a former baseball and football coach, traveled to the Island with sports teams.

Mr. Smith said the search committee was cognizant of the off-Island factor, and the ongoing discussion of hiring from on- or off-Island. He said the committee was looking for an experienced candidate who is currently an active principal.

“The position is unique, it’s tough, and then you add to it living on this Island,” he said. “Some folks embrace this Island immediately and are embraced by the Island, and sometimes folks come here and find it difficult to become part of the community.”

He said a principal doesn’t generate the same interest that a regular teaching position normally does. “If I advertise for a third grade teacher, we’d have literally 75 to 100 applicants,” he said. “In this case we had 20 applications.”

Mr. Smith said school administrators are working to create a pool of on-Island candidates for administrative and principalship positions.

“We recognize that for us to sustain, we’ve got to be able to grow our candidates from within,” he said. “But we’ve got to target really strong teacher leaders and then figure out a way to get them through programs to make them into administrators.”

He said it’s tough to make the jump from teacher to high school principal.

“There’s so many responsibilities for the principalship at this high school that we felt like it’s such a learning curve for a first-year person,” he said. “A teacher going to the principalship or even an administrator going to the principalship who’s never been a high school principal before, we felt like that wasn’t going to be an ideal situation.”

Regardless, he expressed confidence in the search process. “I feel really good about this search,” he said. “We offered the job to three candidates, and all three candidates accepted. It was very clear that these three were the ones that the entire committee wanted.”

Deliberate and careful process

School officials had not expected to be engaged in a principal search in the middle of the 2015-16 school year. That changed following the unexpected departure in August of Gil Traverso, who resigned to take a job in the New Haven, Conn., school district one year into a three-year contract.

School officials tapped former MVRHS Principal Margaret “Peg” Regan, who retired in 2008, to fill in for one year. A comprehensive search group was put together earlier this fall.

“MVRHS is a very special school with high-achieving students, and a talented and caring staff,” Mr. Smith said. “The task of conducting the search process to help find a principal that understands this was bestowed upon the MVRHS principal search committee, which included members from the school committee, teaching staff, support staff, PTSO, SAC, and administrative staff, along with representation from various stakeholders across the Island; MVEA, MVRTEA, NAACP, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Brazilian community, selectmen, MVPS principals’ cabinet, and the MVPS superintendent’s office.”

The application window for candidates opened in September and closed in October, and the search committee moved forward with 20 applicants. Of that pool, about 12 applicants were from the New England area, with the farthest hailing from Washington State. That initial pool of 20 candidates was narrowed down to seven in early December.

Interviews were offered to eight candidates, and one declined. Those interviews started on Thursday, Dec. 3, and continued throughout that week.

At a school meeting in November, Mr. Smith said the search team is being “very deliberate and very careful” with the search, because the upcoming principal will be the fifth in two years. After Stephen Nixon stepped down in 2014 after six years, Mr. D’Andrea, then assistant superintendent, was named acting principal. Gil Traverso lasted one year. Ms. Regan was named interim principal, and the search began.