BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — MIDDLETON — The School Committee for the sprawling, $133 million regional technical school now rising on the campus of Essex Aggie in Danvers unanimously picked North Shore Technical High Superintendent-Director Daniel O’Connell to lead what will be known as Essex Tech.
“The word that we keep hearing, and the word that is driving me forward, is ‘passion,’” Gloucester representative Melissa Teixeira said.
“I want to hire a superintendent who loves this school as much as I do,” said Marcia Sweeney, the representative from Marblehead.
The committee picked O’Connell in the media center of the 475-student regional vocational school on Log Bridge Road that he presently directs.
“To finish your career in a school that is a national showcase” and merges two high-achieving schools, O’Connell said in his closing remarks, “it’s an educator’s dream.”
The committee chose O’Connell over Edward Bouquillon, the superintendent-director of Minuteman Regional in Lexington. Bouquillon passed over the job to head Essex Aggie several years ago to take the Minuteman job.
“It surprises me, as well,” Bouquillon said about applying. Usually, superintendents of regional vocational schools do not look for other jobs, but he said the merger into a new facility was “a unique opportunity.”
O’Connell pointed out that he has been in education for 40 years. He started as a physical education teacher and director of athletics at Triton Regional and held administrative posts with Portsmouth High in New Hampshire, Haverhill High, Greater Lawrence Technical High in Andover, Methuen High and Burlington High before landing at North Shore Tech as principal in 2007. He became the superintendent-director in 2010.
O’Connell described the chance to lead the merger as “a great opportunity.” When asked to describe his management style, O’Connell said “the first word that comes to mind is ‘team,’” adding that he was someone who was both “transparent” and “totally honest.”
“My management style is in the best interests of students, and in the best interests of staff,” O’Connell said.
“The thing that impressed me with Dan O’Connell was he mentioned the kids in a lot of decisions,” said Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School Committee Chairman George Harvey, who also serves as chairman of North Shore Tech.
Business, political and vocational leaders have pinned their hopes on the new 1,440-student regional school to train the future workforce of the North Shore.
The school, which is scheduled to open in September 2014, combines Essex Agricultural and Technical School’s agricultural and environmental programs, North Shore Tech’s vocational programs, and Peabody’s high school vocational programs.
It was pointed out time and time again that whoever was picked had the daunting task of merging the culture of Essex Aggie and North Shore Tech, making sure that different labor union agreements are honored, and coming up with a leadership team.
In fact, when asked what he would do in his first 30 days as superintendent-director, O’Connell passed a memo of 172 items that need to be done.
“The challenge is, no offense, we are late,” O’Connell said, in starting some items. “We need to do these things yesterday.”
He also said he would call the interim head of Essex Aggie, Joy White, to brainstorm ideas, meet with staff and create a leadership team by the end of April. He would also work to dispel misconceptions within both schools about the merger.
“We need to get rid of the anxiety about jobs,” O’Connell said. He also presented to the committee his deep knowledge of the project, describing in detail the ways he has worked to keep the project within budget and save money on transportation costs.
It was O’Connell’s familiarity with the project, and his passion for it, that seemed to sway members. Committee members said they liked Bouquillon’s collaborative style, his experience in the corporate world and his background starting out as a high school agriculture teacher in New York.
Sweeney wanted to dispel the notion that the committee rushed appointing a superintendent. She noted that they started the search in November, a longer time period than it took to choose a new pope.
The committee adjourned and did not talk about O’Connell’s contract.
In the fall of 2011, O’Connell’s $195,000 salary was questioned by the mayors of Beverly and Salem and the town manager of Danvers. North Shore Tech School Committee members explained at the time that amount was due to added responsibilities from the merger.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.