Tanner City native Eric Buckley will be the next principal at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School effective July 1.
Schools Superintendent Joe Mastrocola announced the news at Tuesday night's School Committee meeting. The selection itself did not appear to come as a surprise to anyone -- Buckley is highly regarded in the district, where he has worked for the past 22 years.
"It starts with the students. I've been so fortunate to have such good students along the way," Buckley reflected Tuesday night. He added, smiling: "I know Mr. Mayor, when I first started my career, you were sitting in C395 in the first row, I think it was the third seat."
Bettencourt said after the meeting that the class was Contemporary Affairs and he and Buckley actually knew each other well growing up -- there's only a few years' difference in age between the two men and Bettencourt was close friends with Buckley's younger brother.
He said he was glad to learn earlier this month Buckley was a finalist for the job.
Except for a year as an eighth grade U.S. history teacher at Higgins Middle School, Buckley has spent his entire career at the high school in both teaching and administrative roles.
Mastrocola described Buckley as a skilled and competent educator with experiences tailored to Peabody's needs. He indicated the trust he has in Buckley, starting off his remarks by saying high school is the "flagship" around which the entire community rallies and places its expectations for education.
"His experiences in teaching and administration in public education, coupled with his student-centered approach, as well as his experience with the city of Peabody, all tailor his candidacy to our needs," said Mastrocola.
Buckley was chosen for the job among three finalists, all of whom Mastrocola says were highly qualified, capable administrators. The other two finalists were Swampscott High Principal Layne Millington and Minuteman Regional High School Assistant Principal John Dillon.
Buckley, clearly emotional at times as he offered brief remarks, said he's received a lot of support throughout the process from both school officials and community members for which he is very grateful.
Both he and Mastrocola thanked the search committee tasked with finding a new principal for their diligent efforts over the past several months.
"It's a big job, it's an exciting job," Buckley said, adding that the process has also allowed him to realize how much he's been involved at PVMHS and in the community in the past two decades. "I really look forward to the challenge."
Buckley, who will now be in charge of about 1,800 students and 175 teachers at PVMHS, was promoted to Assistant Principal in 2007 when Ed Sapienza, who is currently acting as Interim Principal, was promoted himself to lead the school. Before Sapienza, Patrick Larkin spent three years as PVMHS Principal.
Buckley complimented both the caliber of the staff and students. "It's really a great place to work," he said.
As exciting as the transition may be, he admitted it's also "bittersweet" to finally part ways with Sapienza, who was sitting in the audience that night.
"I've really enjoyed working with you," Buckley said, thanking him for his mentorship and leadership over the years. "I hope the next few months go by nice and slow."
Buckley also made sure to thank his son, Luke, who was also sitting in the audience studiously attending to his homework because, as his dad explained, there wasn't enough time between hockey practice and the School Committee meeting to get home across town first.
He and his wife Erin also have two other children: Ryan and Sarah.
In addition to teaching, Buckley also coached track and cross country at Higgins as well as Peabody Little League. He's been a member of the Peabody Historical Society and a mainstay in the Peabody Relay for Life.
. In 2009 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and after three summers of chemotherapy treatments, new diagnoses and two attempts at stem cell transplants, the cancer appears to be in full remission.
In 2011, Buckley was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and was eventually able to receive a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a matching donor that August. Ever ones to give back, for other cancer patients in need of a match.
Buckley is a graduate of Bishop Fenwick High School and also has degrees from Assumption College and Salem State. He is currently pursuing another master's degree from the American College of Education.
Mastrocola said specific details of Buckley's contract, including compensation, will be settled upon in the coming days. He said the salary will be close to what other Peabody principals earn.
Sapienza's salary for 2011 was $122,881, and that was with four decades under his belt, while Buckley earned $92,326 as Assistant Principal. By way of comparison, Higgins Principal Todd Bucey earned $101,965 that year.
A meet and greet with parents and staff will also be scheduled in the coming weeks.
Sapienza originally retired in June, but was hired back while another search for a permanent principal got underway. The job was initially posted last spring, but no finalists emerged.
This time, 13 candidates applied and Buckley, Millington and Dillon were chosen as finalists.