McCarthy Parents Upset at Plan to Trade Principal With Burke School
Superintendent Herb Levine is swapping principals at two West Peabody elementary schools, much to the dissatisfaction of one school's parents.
Two elementary school principals are trading places in West Peabody for next school year, but parents at one school in particular are not happy with the move and are doing what they can to fight it.
McCarthy School Principal Ray Smoyer is slated to switch duties with Burke School Principal Judy McNiff effective July 1. The news was announced to staff, students and parents at both schools last week.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Herb Levine says he has received letters and phone calls from McCarthy parents upset at the change, although nothing to date from Burke parents. McCarthy parents have also reached out to local media outlets -- see today's letter from parent Rena Carr.
McCarthy PTO President Leann Schaejbe Smaller said in a message that the city "just can't seem to let our nice little school be happy" and labels the move a "tragic decision."
The change in leadership is coming not long after McCarthy parents boisterously protested the possibility of closing the school during budget talks last year, and even the year before that when school officials identified the McCarthy as the likeliest school to have its doors shuttered if the School Committee was willing to go down that road.
The idea was shelved again last spring without much appetite from the School Committee to pursue, but this time, Smaller argues the administration is just going to take away the McCarthy's "fabulous principal" instead, just when he's getting comfortable after his second year.
She said the school community will unite again to fight the change. Parents, teachers and kids met Monday afternoon to figure out a way to do just that. According to the Salem News, a crowd of about 50 people gathered outside the McCarthy to formulate a plan.
Levine, however, says he made the decision (and conferred with incoming Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola) to better match up the respective principals' talents. He said it was based on his 40 years of experience as an educator and assessing where their talents best lay after working over the past year with both Smoyer and McNiff.
“I think Judy McNiff will do a good job there [at the McCarthy] and I think Ray Smoyer is ready to take the Burke School to the next level,” Levine said.
He also said it’s not unheard of for a superintendent to make such a decision and it’s not the first time in his career that he’s done so.
"[It's] to match skill levels with the schools they should run," Levine said, while still commending both principals for doing good work in their current jobs.
He added that the decision came directly from him, not the mayor or the School Committee, since it's a school personnel matter. Levine approached both principals directly and thoroughly discussed the matter before acting on it, he said.
The swap is also not a critique of either principal's performance and should not be interpreted as one of them failing at their job, Levine said, again stressing that certain talents match better with different school populations.
While not talking further about each person's respective abilities, he noted that the McCarthy School only enrolls 175-200 students, while the Burke School has about 350 -- the preschool program at the McCarthy is run separately by a program director.
One thing Levine can assure McCarthy parents of, is that the move is not a precursor to closing down the school after all. He said he's not pushing for that and there's no appetite from the mayor nor the majority of the School Committee to do that.
“I can tell the McCarthy parents there’s no conversation to close the McCarthy School,” he said.
Levine said he thinks "it's the right move" for both schools and is unlikely to change course at this time, but he won’t rule that out just yet, adding that he is “happy to meet with McCarthy parents” to talk about it further.
In fact, he is scheduling a meeting with them for next week -- time and date to be determined. Levine said the mayor will likely be there and the broader public and press would be welcome to attend.
If, as Carr promised in her letter, McCarthy parents seek to follow Smoyer over to the Burke School, it all depends on available seats. Levine said parents are welcome to apply for open enrollment, but that is based on where seats are open, and in this case, there are still more unfilled seats at the McCarthy.