, Salem, MA

March 20, 2014

Salem may hike principal salaries

Higher pay sought to attract strong school leaders


---- — SALEM — This is not your grandfather’s principal search.

The Salem School Department is looking for new principals for Collins Middle School, Bates Elementary and Nathaniel Bowditch, a K-8 school.

They want new principals, but not just anybody.

The advertisement went out nationally this winter under the headline “Turnaround Leadership Opportunities.”

That really tells the story. Salem is looking for leaders who want to turn around urban schools in what the state has designated a Level 4, under-performing district. Salem is looking for men or women who can step into a school system in the middle of a complex and challenging turnaround effort.

The definition of principal, it appears, has changed.

“It used to be that you had 20 to 30 years’ experience, you used to coach the football team, you were well-liked by most members of the community and were often seen at school events,” Salem Superintendent Stephen Russell said.

“Now, it’s about instructional leadership, knowledge of what makes good teachers, the ability to use data to guide the school forward. ... We’re in a much different environment these days.”

And, in Salem, the stakes are higher.

Not only is Bentley School facing a possible state takeover and undergoing a separate turnaround effort, but other schools are struggling. Enormous amounts of time and resources are being expended to turn the system around. Hiring good principals is a key piece of the puzzle — maybe the key piece.

“The research shows that the two key ingredients of any successful school are the quality of the teachers and the quality of the principal,” Russell said. “One leader can make all the difference in the world.”

Salem began this search last fall with parent and staff focus groups. The city hired the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at UMass-Boston to guide the search, using its network of national contacts.

A total of 53 candidates applied by last week’s deadline from around New England and a few other states.

Screening committees are being set up with the goal of selecting finalists for the three positions by the end of April and new principals by mid-May.

But, first, the School Committee intends to set higher salaries in the hope of landing top candidates. Currently, Collins Principal Mary Manning earns nearly $110,000, and Bates Principal Tom LaValley earns $100,000. Both are veteran school leaders with many years of experience.

The Bentley co-principals and the Bowditch interim principal are paid daily rates ranging from $387 to $434, according to school records.

Russell is recommending new salary ranges of $110,000 to $118,000 for elementary principals, $112,000 to $120,000 for middle school principals, and $118,000 to $125,000 for the high school.

To support his case, he presented data to the school board showing higher salaries in many other communities.

The matter was referred to a subcommittee, with the expectation the school board will vote on new salary scales on April 7.

Salem has to hike its principal pay in order to land candidates willing and capable of guiding a turnaround school, Russell contends.

“If someone can go as close as Lynnfield or Swampscott or Marblehead and make considerably more money, then it puts us at a disadvantage,” he said. “Not only do we now pay you less, but we offer you more challenges.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at


School Principal Salary
Salem High Dave Angeramo $120,000
Collins Middle Mary Manning $109,945
Bowditch (K-8) William Shevory* $434 per day
Bates Tom LaValley $100,078
Bentley Diane O’Donnell** $387 per day
Bentley Gabrielle Montevecchi*** $400 per day
Carlton Jean-Marie Kahn $96,262
Horace Mann Kathryn Singh $100,500
Saltonstall Julie Carter $94,554
Witchcraft Heights Mark Higgins $110,997

* Interim principal

** Retired principal serving as co-principal

*** Co-principal