Newton schools find new principals

By Dan Agarkov
Published: June 2010

As the school year comes to a close, seven principalships in the Newton Public Schools (NPS) are being appointed for the 2010-11 school year.

Pierce, Horace Mann, Lincoln-Eliot, Memorial Spaulding and Burr Elementary Schools as well as Day and Oak Hill Middle Schools will all have new principal assignments, selected by the superintendent. Brown Middle School will also be assigned a new assisant principal.

This widespread change of administration in elementary and middle schools may offer fundamental change in students’ earlier years of schooling. While some schools have already found principals for the following school year, some are still searching for candidates.

According to Interim Superintendent Jim Marini, a selection advisory committee has been put together for each school to run the interview process and to advise Marini in making his selections.

The teams are composed of teachers, parents, school staff and the principals of the respective schools. The committees were organized by Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Joseph Russo and Assistant Director of Human Resources Gil Lawrence.

Several other administrative positions such as the Superintendent of Schools and the Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education will be filled for the next school year.

The new Superintendent, Dr. David Fleishman, was appointed by the School Committee on February 25 and will begin his term on July 1.

Fleishman is currently serving as the Superintendent of Schools in Chappaqua, NY, but has also held administrative positions in the Massachusetts Public Schools in the past.

“Newton is in great shape, Marini said, “and we’re looking forward to the new superintendent coming in with the background, skills and knowledge to lead a strong administrative staff.

The new wave of Newton principals could be a positive change for Newton. According to Marini, the city has been extremely fortunate with the deep candidate pool that has applied for the vacant principal positions. He said that the changes are both exciting and challenging, because the new administrators must learn to understand Newton’s culture.

“Newton has a school culture that transcends individuals, Marini said. “It is a desirable school system to work in because it has a great professional work environment.

Although there are seven principalships being appointed, some of the individuals who have been appointed are veterans of the NPS, and several have already held principal positions in the system.

At Oak Hill Middle School, current interim principal Eva Thompson has been appointed permanent principal.

Current Horace Mann Interim Principal Greg Hurray has been appointed interim principal for one year at Lincoln-Eliot, replacing Katie Charner-Laird, who has accepted a principal position in Cambridge.

Horace Mann is still searching for a replacement.

Cynthia Bencal will leave Burr School to retire. Bencal has worked in Massachusetts schools for 35 years, and has served as the principal of Burr for 19 years.

Though she is retiring, Bencal said that she is considering some work in educational consulting.

“[Newton's] retirement system for our teachers and principals is quite good, Bencal said. “Nineteen years is a long time to do one thing, and I’m ready to try other things.

If Bencal decides to pursue consulting, she will likely work with the school improvement organization Research for Better Teaching. She has already learned to teach one of the organization’s courses that is meant to improve teachers’ in-class instruction.

Mindy Johal, who has worked in the Wayland Public Schools as a Language Arts and Social Studies coordinator, has been selected to replace Bencal.

Current Pierce Interim Principal Ruth H. Chapman has finished her interim term. Chapman has also served as principal at Angier, Bowen and Franklin Elementary Schools.

“She has provided great service to Newton, Marini said.

Memorial Spaulding’s Donette Wilson-Wood is moving on to a different challenge after serving for five years in Newton.

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