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Help is wanted at Peabody High following principal’s resignation

PEABODY — The city’s high school needs a new principal.

Eric Buckley resigned abruptly last week for personal reasons. 

The Peabody native began as a substitute teacher in the district in 1991 and spent nearly all of his career at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School. He advanced to full-time teacher, department head and assistant principal. He was named to lead the school in 2013. 

Buckley and Mayor Edward Bettencourt Jr., who serves as chairman of the School Committee, did not return calls seeking comment.

Superintendent Cara Murtagh said Buckley will be missed.

“He is a great guy,” she said. “I’ve been here 22 years and our paths have crossed as administrators. I wish him the best and thank him for his many years of service.”

The job posting on the district’s website did not include a salary. Buckley earned $135,000 last year, according to city records.

Buckley faced a serious health problem in 2009 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer. He underwent chemotherapy treatment and two attempts at stem cell transplants. Two years later, Buckley was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and received a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a matching donor.

Murtagh declined to discuss his health. 

“This is his time to take care of himself,” she said. 

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said it won’t be easy to find a strong candidate to fill the seat by September.

“Finding a really good high school principal won’t be a piece of cake in the middle of summer,” he said. “Being a principal today is exhausting. High schools are considered the starship of the school system, and principals deal with multiple education programs, social issues going on with the kids, as well as the expectations of the community. 

The most attractive principal candidates are probably settled into a position already, Scott said, and it’s unlikely someone will be found who wants to leave their district immediately.

“Often principals are under contract and are required to give a 60- or 90-day notice,” he added. 

Murtagh agreed it will be a challenge, but she is ready, she said. 

“We will try our best to get the right person,” she said. 

A new principal comes as the school with its 1,436 students faces a variety of challenges. In addition to the need to replace the 49-year-old school building, the number of students in grade 10 who scored in the needs improvement category in English, math and science in last year’s MCAS tests exceeded the state average. 

Until last year, Massachusetts schools were classified into one of five accountability levels. Those meeting goals were ranked Level 1, while the lowest performing schools were rated Level 5, a ranking that allows the education commissioner to appoint a receiver to operate the school. 

From 2012 to 2013, Peabody High was a Level 1. But from 2014 through last year, the school dropped to Level 3, which puts the high school among the lowest performing 20 percent of schools in the state.

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