Ex-principal says she lacked support

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photoJennifer DeStefano at Salem High School last August. 

SALEM — The Salem High School principal who resigned suddenly last month said she did not feel supported by the school administration as she took on the difficult task of running a struggling school.

In her first public comments since resigning on March 13, Jennifer DeStefano said she decided to step down when she realized the situation was "probably going to end in us parting ways."

"I was doing the best I could," DeStefano said in an interview on Thursday. "I was working to the best of my abilities. Working under those conditions any longer wasn't the right thing to do. It was clear that it wasn't going to work out. It wasn't a match."

DeStefano was hired by Ruiz last July as principal at Salem High, a 900-student school that ranks in the bottom 10 percent of high schools in the state.

DeStefano has been in education for 22 years, including the previous six years as an assistant principal at Beverly High School. But it was also her first time serving as a principal.

"I knew that I was taking on a challenge and I took the job with an understanding that I was going to be mentored and supported by the district, and ultimately I didn't feel that was happening," DeStefano said.

DeStefano's sudden resignation was met with a just-as-sudden hiring of her replacement. Ruiz had already lined up Vittoria Pacifico, a former private school principal, and hired her the same day that DeStefano resigned.

DeStefano said she had "no idea" that Ruiz had been looking for her replacement, and in fact did not know that Pacifico had been hired until she learned about it from colleagues on the afternoon that she resigned.

"It was surprising there was somebody there the same day (to replace me)," DeStefano said.

Ruiz disputed DeStefano's contention that she did not receive adequate support. Ruiz said that she, Assistant Superintendent Kate Carbone and a consultant working at the high school all provided support.

"One of the things I pride myself on being is a coach of principals," Ruiz said.

Ruiz said she had a series of "very difficult difficult conversations (with DeStefano) where I clearly indicated that things were not working out."

As for what happened on the day that DeStefano resigned, Ruiz said, "Suffice to say, it ended in her resigning. Nobody was coerced or asked to do anything against her will."

DeStefano said she decided to speak publicly about her resignation because she does not want people to think she "gave up on the school."

"I took the job with the intention of making an investment and a commitment to trying to improve the school," she said. "It had nothing to do with the fact that I didn't want to work with the students or the staff. I hope for nothing but the best for the staff and students there."

DeStefano was under a two-year contract that was not set to expire until June 30, 2020. The contract required her to give at least 90 days notice if she wanted to terminate it, but the district waived that clause. DeStefano was making $130,000.

DeStefano said she is not planning to take any legal action against the district. She said she will begin looking for a job in another district.

"I've never worked in any other career beside being a public educator," she said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.