By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Superintendent Joe Mastrocola decided to keep it all in the family last night, naming current assistant principal and lifelong Peabody resident Eric Buckley the new high school principal.
The decision brought the School Committee and the room to their feet, applauding the choice. Looking on approvingly was both retiring Principal Ed Sapienza and Buckley’s young son Luke.
“It’s a big job,” Buckley told the board. “An exciting job.” His voice choked with emotion as he observed, “It starts with the students. And I’ve been so fortunate to have several good students.”
The mood lightened when he glanced at Mayor Ted Bettencourt, the board chairman, saying that he remembered Bettencourt the student from 20 years ago. “In seat 395, first row, second seat.” Buckley was a substitute teacher at the time.
The mayor grinned. “Didn’t I get a C- for that course?” he asked.
Buckley praised Sapienza as a mentor.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with you,” he said. “It’s a great staff. A lot of great things going on.”
The new principal will start the job July 1.
Both Buckley and Mastrocola thanked the search committee, led by the city’s Human Services Director Karen Budrow, which whittled down the 13 applicants to three names.
Mastrocola praised Buckley in a statement: “His experiences in teaching and administration in public education coupled with his student-centered approach, as well as his experience with the city of Peabody, all tailor his candidacy to our needs.”
A formal “meet and greet” will be arranged, Mastrocola said.
“In every city and town in Massachusetts, the high school is the flagship school around which the entire community places its support and expectations,” he said. “The position of principal is key to lead this effort.”
Buckley began his career in Peabody as a substitute teacher at Peabody High School in 1991. He later won a full-time position teaching history at Higgins Middle School in 1995, then moved back to the high school the following year. By 2005, he was the social studies department chairman, and in 2007, he became an assistant principal.
A graduate of Bishop Fenwick High School, Buckley received his undergraduate degree in history at Assumption College in Worcester. He has two master’s degrees in education, from Salem State and American College of Education in Chicago.
The other two finalists included current Swampscott High School Principal Layne Millington and John Dillon, assistant principal at Minuteman High School in Lexington.
Buckley apologized for the fact that his son, who sat patiently throughout, had to miss hockey to be there.
“He’s been doing his homework,” Buckley said.
Luke is one of three Buckley children. The oldest, Ryan, is a freshman at the high school.
Admitting in an interview that he was initially worried about conflicts arising from his son being at the school, Buckley explained that Ryan has put him at ease.
“He’s fine with it,” he said. “I don’t have any issues bringing my kids to the school.”
Peabody High School has roughly 1,800 students.