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Four finalists vie for Peabody High principal post

PEABODY — One month after the unexpected resignation of Veterans Memorial High School principal Eric Buckley, interviews to replace him are set for Thursday night. 

Mayor Edward Bettencourt Jr., who serves on the School Committee, and Superintendent Cara Murtagh will conduct the public session for the four finalists at the high school. The 45-minute interviews start at 7 p.m. The job pays in the $130,000 range.

Among the candidates is Jennifer Destefano, who resigned midway through her first year as Salem High School principal. 

In an interview with The Item on Sunday, DeStefano said she knew the job was a challenge, but accepted it with an understanding she would be mentored and supported by the district.

“Ultimately, that didn’t happen,” she said. Destefano said she shared her reasons for leaving with the initial 12-member interviewing committee in Peabody.

Her employment history includes work as a history teacher and dean of students at Everett High School, assistant principal at Beverly High School, and from July 2018 through until March 2019, was principal at Salem High.

She received her B.A. and M.A. at Tufts University, a graduate degree from Cambridge College and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University, a private university in Florida. 

The other candidates include:

  • Nathan Lamar, who began his career as an English teacher at Danvers High School following graduation from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in 2006. He would go on to become Malden High School’s principal following receipt of a Master of Education in School Administration from Amercian International College, a private liberal arts college in Springfield, in 2010. Today, he serves as the academic program coordinator at Northeast Metropolitan Technical High School in Wakefield.
  • Matthew Poska, who has been principal of the Beverly Middle School since 2006. He served as the school’s assistant principal for two years before getting the promotion. He taught history at Lynn English High School and Thurgood Marshall Middle School, and was assistant principal at Saugus High. Poska has experience as a hockey coach at Lynn English, Swampscott High School and Hamilton-Wenham High School. He is a 1994 graduate of Merrimack College and in 1999 received his masters in secondary school administration from Salem State University. 
  • Brooke Randall, who spent 15 years at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School as dean of students chair of the math department, and a math teacher, is the assistant principal at North Andover High School. She graduated magna cum laude from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire with a B.S. in 2002, later received her Master of Arts in teaching at Salem State University, and a graduate degree in school administration from America International College.  

Buckley, who resigned for “personal reasons,” spent the past six years as principal of the school. His career spanned 28 years in the Peabody Public Schools, most of it teaching or in administrative positions at the high school.

Whomever is selected as the new principal, the mayor and the School Committee have made it a priority to replace the 48-year-old high school. 

Last spring, the city submitted a funding application to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The quasi-independent state agency funds a portion of the construction and renovation of public schools.

If approved, the new school could open in 2022. 

In addition, there are academic challenges facing the school. GreatSchools.org rates Peabody High below average compared to other Massachusetts schools. 

While the school is making about average year-over-year academic improvement, students perform below average on state tests, on college readiness measures and how well they serve disadvantaged students.

 

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