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June 18, 2013

Sapienza reflects on his tenure

Peabody High principal to retire

PEABODY — Ed Sapienza took the job of principal six years ago, at a time when Peabody High School had been roiled by stories of drug-abusing students and fierce turf battles among administrators.

He’s retiring now — for a second time — under far different circumstances.

“He’s been an excellent principal,” says City Councilor Dave Gravel, a former school board member. “What he brought to the high school was respect for the teachers. Respect for the School Committee. And respect in Peabody. I thought he was a calming influence. ... A great guy.”

“Talk about someone who just could do it all,” adds School Committee member Dave McGeney. “I could fill a newspaper with stories of all the kids he’s helped. They needed a hand. They needed someone to get involved. And he did. He has made a difference.”

After 43 years as a Peabody educator, Sapienza, 64, had intended to retire last year. A delay naming his successor, Assistant Principal Eric Buckley, brought him back for an additional year. His success six years ago was not preordained. For one thing, some wondered at a principal who had spent a good portion of his career representing the teachers union.

Yet, those credentials were actually a help, Sapienza says, allowing him to see the issues from both sides of the table. For that matter, he’s also served on the School Committee in his town of North Reading. In every case, he says, “I’ve been a consensus builder.”

He worked some changes on the school culture as soon as he took charge.

“We tightened up a bit more,” he says. Students were told getting detention also meant getting barred from school social events.

“That sent a clear message the first time a prom or a dance rolled around and you weren’t invited,” he says.

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