PEABODY — Four finalists are competing to lead Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, and all have some sort of local connection to bring into their interviews.

The finalists are:

Jennifer DeStefano, most recently principal at Salem High School and before that an assistant principal at Beverly High from 2012 to 2018. DeStefano most recently led Salem High for three quarters of a year, until she was abruptly replaced by then-district Superintendent Margarita Ruiz. Ruiz eventually departed the district herself;

Nathan Lamar, academic program coordinator at the Northeast Metropolitan Technical High School, and a past house principal at Malden High School. Lamar also taught English and was an administrator at Danvers High School from 2006 to 2011;

Matthew Poska, a principal at Beverly Middle School going back to 2006 and assistant principal at the school for two years before that; and

Brooke Randall, an assistant principal at North Andover High School. Randall was also dean of students at Peabody from 2014 to 2017, and before that chairperson of the school’s mathematics department from 2010 to 2014.

The candidates will be publicly interviewed in the high school’s auditorium on Thursday, Aug. 22 from 6 to 9 p.m., with 30 to 45 minutes dedicated to each candidate.

Whoever comes out of the interviews will replace Eric Buckley, who resigned from leading the school in July for “personal reasons.” His career spanned 28 years in the Peabody Public Schools, most of it teaching or in administrative positions at the high school, including six leading it as principal.

The school has an enrollment of roughly 1,430 students and almost 130 teachers. A salary for the position was not listed in the job posting, but Buckley made $135,771 in 2018, with a regular salary of $134,82, according to city records.

The principal search in Peabody came at a tough time, with many districts looking for both permanent and interim leaders for the coming academic year. Though late to the table, Peabody Superintendent Cara Murtagh opted to search for a permanent leader instead of a temporary one, and she quickly put together a search committee.

For each year of Buckley’s time in the district, there was one applicant for the job to replace him, according to city Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who also leads the School Committee.

“We had 28 applicants for the position of high school principal,” Bettencourt said, adding that the field was narrowed to 11 interviewed candidates. “The position of high school principal is a critically important position to establish a very positive and welcoming environment and culture in the school — as well as being the academic leader for the school.”

With so many other searches going on in the area this summer, Bettencourt said he felt fortunate to have a strong field from which to choose.

“We weren’t sure what to expect because it was so late,” he said. “The school year is going to be starting in a couple weeks, so we weren’t sure what type of candidates we were going to receive — but this couldn’t have worked better.”

Bettencourt attributed the strength of the pool to the city’s plans to build a new high school, which a new principal would lead if he or she found longevity in the Tanner City. The district submitted a letter of interest to the state’s School Building Authority earlier this year to land pivotal funding for the project, and they’ll likely hear the results of that bid for cash this fall, according to Bettencourt.

The school likely won’t have a new principal in place by the time classes begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3, Bettencourt said. In the meantime, Chris Lord — the district’s assistant superintendent, and a past school leader himself, including time leading Andover High School — will be helping to launch the school into the new year.

“He’ll be helping with the opening of the school,” Bettencourt said, “but we’re hoping to have someone in place soon after.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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