BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Rachel Hunt, the founder and head of school at Salem Academy Charter School for the past decade, will step down at the end of the school year.
Hunt, 40, made the announcement yesterday at a staff meeting.
Hunt said she has no immediate plans but will take the summer off before making a decision about her future.
“I’m going to relax,” she said yesterday. “I will take a step back. ... This has been a really incredible but completely consuming experience — in a positive way. I want to be able to personally and professionally take a step back and reflect and then kind of take my next step forward.”
She said she is leaving at a time when the school has a strong foundation and is ready to move on without her.
The announcement comes just weeks before Hunt will take a seat on the Salem School Committee, after topping the ticket in the November municipal election, her first run for elective office.
Hunt said there is no connection between the decision to leave the charter school and her pending political career. Before running for office, Hunt checked with the state Ethics Commission and was told there is no apparent conflict between the two roles. The state board has also given an advisory opinion to that effect.
Salem Academy Charter School is an independent public school in Shetland Park with 372 students in grades 6 to 12. It has its own board of trustees, budget and staff and is not part of the district school system.
As a member of the school board, Hunt will help set policies for the district schools, which have more than 4,300 students in 10 schools.
Salem Academy was awarded a charter by the state when Hunt was only 30 years old. The former Collins Middle School Spanish teacher was the driving force behind the school and has led it since 2003. During that time, the number of students has grown dramatically, and the school has been recognized for academic achievement.
Since opening the school, Hunt has married and become the mother of two young children. Her 4-year-old daughter will enter kindergarten in the Salem public schools next fall.
“I am tremendously proud of what Salem Academy has become over the last 10 years through the collective efforts of our staff, families, trustees, students and friends,” Hunt wrote in an email sent to the Salem Academy community last night. “I have been dedicated to Salem Academy since 2002 when the school was only an idea, and my loyalty and devotion to the institution will continue indefinitely.
“This year, however, will be my last as head of school. I have spent most of my professional career at Salem Academy — in fact, over a quarter of my life! I love and will miss enormously everything that is Salem Academy.”
In her letter, Hunt also announced future changes at the school.
Lower School Principal Stephanie Callahan, who oversees grades 6 to 8, will retain those duties and also assume Hunt’s role next school year as head of school.
Salem Academy will form a search committee and begin interviewing candidates to be principal of the Upper School (grades 9 to 12), the role Hunt has filled.
Sean O’Neil will remain as executive director.
Hunt said Salem Academy has built a solid foundation and “will only continue to grow and develop. I expect great things ahead. It’s a very exciting moment.
“I feel the school is at a place where it’s ready to take a step forward without me.”
As for herself, Hunt said she doesn’t expect to be idle long.
“I plan to stay in education,” she said. “I don’t plan to be in a principal role next year, but I plan to stay in education.”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.