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School Board Struggles Over Prospect of Ambrozavitch Leaving

The School Committee weighed in Monday night on the news that Susan Ambrozavitch was a finalist for a superintendent’s job in Amesbury. The board shared mixed feelings over what that means for Danvers now if she does get the job.

The Danvers School Committee was still torn Monday night over the the district for Amesbury, if she does in fact get the top job there, that is.

The Amesbury School Committee announced last week that Ambrozavitch was one of five finalists for the superintendent’s job to replace G. David Jack, who is retiring in June.

In Danvers, committee members said they were happy for Ambrozavitch on a personal and career level, but conflicted on how to proceed with the current leadership plan at , which was agreed to on a very “person-specific” basis. Ambrozavitch is serving as both assistant superintendent and DHS principal during the life of .

“When opportunities come along in your professional life, you have to take advantage of them,” said new board chairman Eric Crane. “You make the best decisions you can on what you think might happen,” he said, referring to Ambrozavitch’s commitment a year ago to the added duties of being a high school principal during the renovation project.

Arthur Skarmeas said he was “happy” for Ambrozavitch on a personal level. He added she’s been “integral” to his family’s life for the past 10 years or so as his daughter moved on from the Smith School where Ambrozavitch was principal to Danvers High.

“But I’m also concerned that it’s May and we may not have a principal and assistant superintendent in the fall,” said Skarmeas, noting the district may not have a permanent replacement for special education director Kathleen Curtis either, once she retires in October. No candidates have been presented to the School Committee yet.

Skarmeas said the current leadership plan was agreed to two years ago because it was Ambrozavitch handling both roles, but now, he is greatly concerned at what might happen, and so are several other parents, he said.

While colleague Jean McCartin shared his dismay that Ambrozavitch might leave Danvers, she did, however, feel confident school officials would arrive at a good solution if need be.

“I fee like we’ve always figured out what to do when someone leaves us,” McCartin said, praising the district administrative team. “I don’t feel as though our children aren’t going to be educated next year.”

Superintendent of Schools Lisa Dana quickly briefed the committee on her actions after hearing the news last week, before committee members weighed in with their comments.

“In the event that there is a change, I have begun to research [options],” said Dana.

She said she is looking for “stability” and “consistency” in any replacement plan and one that maintains strong leadership at DHS. She said she doesn’t envision tapping an internal candidate to step into Ambrozavitch’s challenging dual role, although she will seek to encourage succession planning for the future.

Current budgetary challenges, however, would likely prohibit the possibility of hiring two new full-time staff to assume Ambrozavitch’s duties.

Committee member Connie Pawlak, who disagreed with her colleagues earlier this spring about postponing the search for a new high school principal for at least another year, suggested hiring a skilled (perhaps retired) administrator on a temporary basis to allow the district to spend more time looking for the right replacement.

Pawlak also had pointed out that if even if Amesbury doesn’t work out now for Ambrozavitch, it doesn’t mean the district won’t be faced with the same problem a few months from now or next year with a new job prospect.

“I’m not comfortable sitting here waiting too see if Amesbury will make a decision,” she said.

Crane said he would be fine moving ahead with the same administration plan, however, if Ambrozavitch did stay in Danvers.

Dana said she would have more a detailed course of action by the committee’s June meeting. She said her understanding was that Amesbury school officials were also intent on hiring a new leader by May 25.

Committee member William Bates likewise wished Ambrozavitch well and espoused great faith in Dana’s leadership team to navigate this latest challenge.

“We have been thrown a curveball, and that happens in life,” said Bates.

“Sue, good luck, and I mean that with every sense of the word,” he said. “No one in this school system is irreplaceable, not even Mrs. A.”

Ambrozavitch was quiet during the – at times heated – discussion and declined an offer by Crane to comment.

Stephen Gilliss May 13, 2011 at 12:48 PM
If we were (and we should) to follow what's become fiscal protocol in the wake of a shrinking school budget, both of Ms. Ambrozavitch's postions would simply be left vacant. Doing without both seems too drastic, however, which presents us with a very un-simple choice: principal or assistant superintendent? The obvious: both are important otherwise why would we have the positions to begin with. Still, principals typically have a much lower salary than assistant superintendents and perhaps more importantly they are more visible to our students and fill a vital leadership role to both them and their immediate faculty. The choice then, assuming one must and will be made, seems obvious: fill the principal role but not the assistant superintendent job. Superintendent Dana has reluctantly asked her extended staff to do more with less by eliminating jobs while opting to leave others unfilled. And though the assistant superintendent surely plays a vital role to the entire school system, it seems no one person would be as greatly impacted by the absence of an assistant than the superintendent herself. But if a superintendent is going to ask her others to do more with less, than she must be willing to do so as well. It's an impact decision. It's a difficult decision. It's an unselfish decision. But by most appearances, it's the best decision for our kids and our budget.

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