School leaders defend selection of off-Island candidates for principal’s job

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School — Photo by Sam Moore

Assistant superintendent of schools Richie Smith took the opportunity of a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee meeting Monday night to respond to public concern over the choice of three off-Island candidates for the job of high school principal in the wake of the recent and unexpected departures of two principals.

In August, Gil Traverso resigned as high school principal to take a job in the New Haven, Conn., school district, one year into a three-year contract. In December, Oak Bluffs School Principal Jack Rizzo announced his resignation six months into the job to be with his wife in Hawaii.

Mr. Smith reassured committee members that steps are being put in place to prepare Island teachers to assume administrative roles.

The search for a new MVRHS principal moved into its final stages last week when Mr. Smith announced the three finalists for the job: Sara Dingledy, the current principal of Westchester Square Academy of New York City; David Fabrizio, the current principal of Ipswich Middle School in Ipswich; and David Williams, former principal of York Middle School in York, Maine.

“There’s been a lot in the comment section of the press about the sustainability of our principals,” Mr. Smith told committee members Monday night. “Rest assured that we are aware of that; we are aware of trying to sustain good leadership here on the Island.”

He said there’s not a definitive path for teachers in the schools to move up to administrative positions, yet.

“There are some wildly talented teacher leaders in our schools,” Mr. Smith said. “We have to, as administrators, figure out ways to clear paths for them and give them opportunities to really learn the trade before they get into what’s becoming a more and more difficult job.”

Mr. Smith said that looking back, it’s easy to “connect the dots” about why Mr. Traverso and Rizzo, both of whom were off-Islanders hired to fill Island positions, left the Vineyard.

“That doesn’t mean we should then stop taking good risks in looking for good people to augment the talent we already have here on the Island,” Mr. Smith said, acknowledging the necessity to utilize talent from within the school system as well.

Mr. Smith said the challenge is to find ways to cultivate good instructional leaders, “that are inspiring, and that also know the culture and know the Island.”

See for yourself

Returning to the three finalists, he said the search committee was looking for candidates who were visionaries, collaborators, and instructional leaders, and also had principalship experience.

“The three folks that were chosen have that,” he said.

He encouraged committee members to watch the final candidates’ interviews on MVTV local access channel 15, where they will air intermittently over the coming days.

“You have the ability to watch the interviews of these three finalists and start developing your own opinions,” he said. “If you’re able to watch that, when you come here to meet them, you’ll be as informed as we are on the committee.”

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

“Everybody’s input is important and welcome, so please set those days aside and be looking for the schedules when they come out,” superintendent of schools Matt D’Andrea said. “It’s a very, very important hire, and we need everybody’s input.”

“We think that this is a very transparent, very inclusive process, and we hope we’re not connecting the dots in the future and having these folks not work out,” Mr. Smith said. “The hope that we have is that all three are very, very promising-looking candidates, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that we find the right person.”

ASCD conference

In keeping with the conversation about providing teachers with opportunities for leadership growth, four Island teachers and one administrator gave a presentation Monday night about their experience at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Conference on Educational Leadership held in California.

Assistant high school principal Elliot Bennett, library teacher Kevin McGrath, English teacher Cynthia Cowan, social studies teacher Andrew Vandall, and physical education department chairman Kathy Perrotta traveled to San Diego, Calif., to attend the conference from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 to receive teacher leadership training. The cost was approximately $1,200 per person, school officials said.

Much of their presentation focused on professional development, leadership practices, and school culture. Some tied their learning experience to the search for the new school principal.

“One thing they talked about a lot was principal leadership, and the difference between a principal and a leader,” Ms. Bennett said. “A principal is a role, it’s a title, it’s something that needs to be done in a school. A leader is not a job so much as a mindset, and when you’re looking for a principal, you’re going to be looking for different things.”

Interim school principal Margaret “Peg” Regan piggybacked off that statement. She cited the discussion in the public about the lack of promoting from within.

“What Elliot’s done is actually the hardest thing; to step up from teaching, rank and file, into school administration, because you suddenly aren’t part of the union anymore, you’re not part of the group, you’re out there on your own,” she said. “When I came from Mill Valley [Calif.] here, it was OK because no one knew who I was, and I was just a new principal, but it’s much harder to do what they’re talking about, which is to move up from rank and file into assistant principal or principal. Suddenly you’re in a whole new category of leadership that is, I think, thornier.”

Mr. Vandall tied that in with the idea of school culture.

“What Peg is saying, it’s really difficult for someone to step up as a teacher and then move up in position, but it’s also mostly about school culture,” he said. “Is that something that we have been developing in our school, or is that something that we want to develop in our schools? It’s definitely something that’s happening nationally.”


Following the retirement of assistant principal Andrew Berry at the end of December, school administrators decided not to replace the position, but instead reorganize positions.

Monday, Ms. Regan announced Career Technical Education (CTE) director Barbara-Jean Chauvin will step up as a combined assistant principal/CTE director. Ms. Bennett will pick up disciplinary duties for grades 10, 11, and 12. MVRHS finance manager Mark Friedman, in preparation for the new principal, will work more intensively on budget development, budget expenditures, excess and deficiency funds, and management, “so that whoever comes in as principal has a very strong financial person with them,” Ms. Regan said. She said it’s “important for me going forward that this new person coming in has a real solid foundation in this very complex budget work that we do.”

And, “to the point about people rising to the leadership level,” she said, business teacher Josh Burgoyne will be working additional days as an administrator, in addition to teaching. He’ll help with disciplinary investigations, CTE field trips, and share some duties with Ms. Chauvin.

The salary for Ms. Elliot will be raised $3,225, and $2,480 for Ms. Chauvin, prorated for the rest of the year. Mr. Friedman’s salary will be raised $2,977, and Mr. Burgoyne will receive about a $7,000 raise. The raises will come from the remaining monies in Mr. Berry’s salary line, which is about $42,000.

The school committee approved the changes and raises. Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury voted against it.

“We have a very nice team, and have built much more capacity for leadership in the building this second semester, so whoever comes in next will have a pretty strong team of experienced people,” Ms. Regan said.

Also Monday, Mr. D’Andrea announced that the school had not made this year’s cut for a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Association (MSBA) for financial assistance with school renovations.

“They strongly recommend that we should file another SOI (statement of interest) this year,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “So we’re certainly going to go ahead and do that.”

On Thursday, Jan. 7, at 7 pm in the MVRHS Performing Arts Center, school administrators will hold a public “state of the facilities” meeting to review the results from building studies conducted over the summer and fall, and possible plans for school repairs and renovations.