, Salem, MA

April 20, 2007

Essex Aggie picks a chief at last

By Amanda McGregor , Staff writer

DANVERS - On the third vote in a month, the Essex Aggie trustees decided, again, on a leader for the school. This time, it's longtime vocational educator Roger Bourgeois.

The trustees' first pick, Ed Bouquillon, pulled out during negotiations, and then the trustees hit a 3-3 deadlock last week during a vote on the two remaining finalists, as a seventh trustee was absent from the meeting to break the tie.

The decision ends nearly 21/2 years without a permanent superintendent.

"When I didn't get it the first time around, I was very disappointed," said Bourgeois, assistant superintendent of community services at Shawsheen Technical High School in Billerica. "For this to come to fruition, I just couldn't be more thrilled."

The trustees picked Bourgeois over Gene Demsey, who is acting principal at Essex Agricultural and Technical High School on Route 62 in Danvers, where he started working as a teacher in the 1970s.

"We'll make a great team," Bourgeois said of working with Demsey. "Agricultural education is his strength, so he's got what I don't have, and, hopefully, I have the administrative background so that as a team we can move the school forward for the students."

Bourgeois, 51, has worked at Shawsheen since 1992, first as a carpentry teacher, then as head of the school's construction department. He became co-op coordinator in 2000 and was promoted to director of community services five years ago.

During the trustees' discussion prior to yesterday's vote, the board members were split 4-3 in favor of Bourgeois. Those supporting Bourgeois cited his administrative experience, including oversight of the capital budget and coordination of grants at Shawsheen.

"It is not an easy choice," said trustee Frederick Winthrop of Ipswich, who was absent from last week's meeting. "After a great deal of thought, I believe we should choose Roger Bourgeois. ... We need someone who is going to be an inspired and motivated leader and a dynamic spokesperson for the school."

Those in favor of Demsey praised his agricultural expertise and noted the faculty support of his candidacy, including the endorsement of present Superintendent Helen Hegarty.

"I think this is a unique facility with a long history ... of agriculture, which has been overlooked here in the commonwealth," said trustee Vincent Basile of Stoneham.

"It is an agricultural school," Chairman Joseph Edwards of Haverhill said. "I'm sure in my mind Gene Demsey is by far the best candidate."

The trustees then voted 6-1 for Bourgeois, with only Edwards dissenting. The trustees immediately took a second vote, which was unanimous.

The trustees said they expected Bourgeois and Demsey would be complementary leaders and praised their thorough and open process to hire a superintendent, which was a stark contrast to the trustees' last attempt to fill the position.

The school's leadership has been in limbo since 2005, when the trustees swiftly appointed a member of their own board, former state Rep. Peter McCarthy, as superintendent. A judge later ruled McCarthy lacked the credentials for the job.

This time around, the trustees hired a consultant to manage the search and considered only licensed vocational superintendents. In the meantime, Hegarty, who was principal, stepped in to serve as superintendent, delaying her retirement to do so.

"From what the process was before, the board can be proud to know they really stepped up to the plate," said George Banos, a social studies teacher at Essex Aggie for 27 years. "It was a fair process."

The salary for leading the public agricultural and vocational school of about 450 students was advertised at between $115,000 and $125,000. The trustees and Bourgeois plan to negotiate his contract next week.

Bourgeois comes to Essex Aggie at a time when the school is planning a merger with North Shore Technical High School in Middleton and the Peabody High School vocational program.

"It's a great school, and as (the trustees) said, he will make a good team with Gene," said Aggie teacher Richard Collins, who was among a handful of faculty members who attended yesterday's meeting.

"There is a sense of pride you've given this school by doing it right," Fred Murtagh, the school's longtime treasurer, told the board at the end of the meeting.