Based on the initial opinion voiced by a majority of school board members this week, it's likely the leadership at Danvers High will stay the same for at least another year and postpone any search for a permanent principal.
Superintendent of Schools Lisa Dana has recommended that Assistant Superintendent Susan Ambrozavitch remain in her dual role as high school principal while a large segment of renovations to the school transpire over the next year (Ambrozavitch took on the extra duties this past spring following the resignation of Thomas Murray). Assistant principals Mark Strout and Scott Kelley would also remain where they are along with curriculum director Peggy McElhinney.
"We have a strong plan and strong leadership in place," Dana told the School Committee Monday. She praised Ambrozavitch as an "extraordinary" leader with a highly skilled team under her.
School Committee members credited Ambrozavitch with improving the "culture" at the school and transitioning more than 1,000 students and staff well-nigh seamlessly into the refurbished Dunn Wing this fall. Ambrozavitch is also only being paid for one job while part of those other salary funds pay for professional development programs.
For the most part, committee members agreed with Dana's assessment that keeping the same team in place was the best option to sustain current momentum. Once the new science wing is built and work is complete on that portion of campus, the Dunn Wing will be torn down, thus requiring another massive migration of students and staff. The final project is slated to be finished in 2013.
"My inclination is to trust your judgment as long as things seem to be going well," committee member Eric Crane told Dana.
Colleague Bill Bates echoed that sentiment, pointing out hiring a new principal wasn't feasible under the current budget crunch.
The only board member to object to the plan was Connie Pawlak, who argued for beginning the search immediately for a permanent high school principal. Pawlak, a former principal herself, said the more time they could devote to bringing in a new hire and training that person in the operations of the new Danvers High the better.
"It's much easier to implement a plan when you've been involved from the beginning," she said, but clarified that she was neither questioning Ambrozavitch nor Dana's leadership thus far. Ambrozavitch is also a former principal.
"I think she's done a fabulous job [Ambrozavitch], but a new person can't just walk in cold turkey," Pawlak said.
Committee member Jean McCartin agreed the new hire should have some input in the planning process, but felt that could still be accomplished with extensive, gradual training and orientation even a year or two from now.
Pawlak said the two chief administrators should be free to focus more on district-wide issues and outside representation of Danvers schools rather than absorbing in-house duties, particularly in Ambrozavitch's case, to which fellow committee members agreed.
"On paper, it is a shared position, but she does an extraordinary job," Dana said of Ambrozavitch. "She doesn't miss a beat. I haven't noticed a difference."
Board chairman Arthur Skarmeas admitted he had some initial reservations at the plan as well, but the past several months, with nary a hiccup in the operation of the school, changed his mind, he said.
"So much could not go right…with what we have to do with kids this year and next year [shuffling between buildings]. I've been shocked, in a good way, at how easily everything went," Skarmeas said.
"This can't keep going on, but it can go on for another year," he added.
One aspect of the transition plan formulated by administrators is to create internships for assistant principals with the goal of eventually seeing future administrators move up the ranks. The School Committee was glad to hear that as well.
The committee accepted the transition plan for further consideration and will likely vote on it next month.