For 40 years, Ed Sapienza has walked the halls of Peabody Veterans Memorial High School as a teacher and now approaches the end of his career as one of the most respected principals in the history of the school.
Sapienza formally announced at Tuesday's School Committee meeting he plans to retire at the end of the school year. In a letter submitted to Interim Superintendent Dr. Herb Levine last week, Sapienza noted he was in the process of submitting paperwork to the Mass. Teachers' Retirement Board.
“It’s been a great adventure with good experiences with the students, parents and staff and I am proud of the accomplishments,” said Sapienza in a one-on-one interview Tuesday night.
Sapienza, a North Reading resident, has been the PVMHS principal since 2007, but has had a long love affair with the Peabody school system. He began his career at PVMHS in 1971 as a substitute teacher, covering everything from home economics and math to science to physical education. And before securing a full-time teaching job in Peabody, he was also a math teacher and assistant football and baseball coach for Hull High School during the 1972-1973 season.
He said his passion for athletics and teaching led him to co-write and create the original curriculums for the Peabody health education program.
“I brought my sports background into the teaching [environment],” said Sapienza.
From how School Committee members reflected on the news and Sapienza's tenure in Peabody, his presence and efforts in shaping the lives of many past and present students has been profound. They said his style is unforgettable.
Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne said her children were most impressed with Sapienza on his very first day as principal.
Dunne told Sapienza and her colleagues that two of her children came home that day and separately reported that they liked his presentation to the student body where he laid out his list of rules, told students to “pull up their pants with a belt, and no hats” and told students: “you are going to learn.”
“That’s the attitude you carried through for five years and we thank you,” said Dunne to Sapienza.
Dunne added in good humor, “Although I am probably going to deny your letter.”
“I have worked with Ed Sapienza just nine months and I can attest he is one of the highest quality high school principals and one of the highest quality human beings,” said Levine.
Levine spoke about the contributions Sapienza has not only given to the schools but to shaping the lives of many who grew up and still live in Peabody. He also quipped about the lively and sometimes humorous exchanges the two have had during tense labor negotiations.
“I enjoyed how right he is all the time and I enjoyed debating his protestations regularly,” said Levine with a smile. Sapienza chuckled.
Levine speaks to one of Sapienza’s greatest strengths in being able to bridge the gap between the teachers' union and the administration. Sapienza says his role with the union (he had also served as president while a teacher) is one of his greatest achievements aside from his 24/7 commitment to students and faculty.
“There’s a kind of chaos in trying to solve problems…but we get everyone to shake hands at the end,” he reflected.
Sapienza, throughout the tribute Tuesday night, maintained that his love for teaching and commitment to the kids was at the forefront.
“I always would tell my faculty to be the kind of teacher you would want for your children,” said Sapienza.
Sapienza has also pursued an endless drive to make greater in-roads in in the 21st century, marrying technology with education. Before becoming principal, he also taught computer science.
“In the last three to four years, we have made sure every teacher has a laptop and projector; every math and science teacher has a Smart Board in their classroom and every English teacher has a digital presenter,” said Sapienza.
Sapienza is also responsible for bringing the first wave of Net Books to ninth-graders to use as a tool in writing. Now students and faculty can access Google Docs and store work in the Cloud.
“Students always had to go to the computer lab for access but now they have access right at their desks,” said Sapienza.
Sapienza says he is always demonstrating the use of technology whether it's showing students his NOOK or how to use his iPad.
Accolades continued to flow from each School Committee member who spoke to Sapienza publicly, but through it all he remained humble. From every testimonial it was clear that Sapienza had taught all a thing or two about education, integrity and respect.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt, the youngest Peabody native on the stage to graduate PVMHS, concluded by saying: “I want to thank you for your years of service. You have helped countless kids and we wish you all the best.”