SALEM — Salem High School Principal Jennifer DeStefano resigned on Wednesday, forcing a sudden change in leadership with three months left in the school year.
Superintendent Margarita Ruiz said DeStefano resigned for "personal reasons" effective immediately. Ruiz declined to elaborate.
"Being a personnel matter that's all I can share," she said. DeStefano could not be reached for comment.
Ruiz hired DeStefano last June to replace David Angeramo, who left to become an administrator at St. Mary's High School in Lynn. DeStefano had been an assistant principal at Beverly High School.
Ruiz said she has hired Vittoria Pacifico to lead the school for the next 18 months, starting on Thursday.
Pacifico, who lives in Hyde Park, runs an educational consulting firm and works as a coach for students in the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Ruiz said Pacifico has 24 years of experience in education and served as the head of St. Mary Academy-Bay View, an all-girls private Catholic school in Rhode Island.
Ruiz said she appointed Pacifico to an 18-month term to provide stability.
"Our high school has been identified as a school that needs partial assistance and we're ranked much lower than other high schools in the state," Ruiz said. "The work is urgent and we want to provide stability."
Ruiz said she met with administrators and staff at Salem High School on Wednesday afternoon to inform them of DeStefano's decision. Ruiz then posted a letter on the district's website announcing the news.
Ruiz said she was familiar with Pacifico and was able to quickly hire her.
"She is the leader I feel we need at the high school," Ruiz said. "She's an experienced leader with a good track record. She's certainly not a first-year or second-year principal."
DeStefano started her career as a history teacher at Everett High School in 1997 and became dean of students there in 2007. She was hired as an assistant principal at Beverly High School in 2012. She has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's in education from Tufts University.
Ruiz said DeStefano completed the renovation and restructuring of the high school's College and Career Center, and oversaw the adoption of a new program of studies.
"She did important work and we're certainly thankful for her service to Salem High School," Ruiz said.
DeStefano had also been dealing with controversy over a proposed change in students' schedules. At Monday's School Committee meeting, some students and parents criticized the process as "secretive" and "rushed," according to notes of the meeting posted on the Salem League of Women Voters' Facebook page.
Mayor Kim Driscoll, who chairs the School Committee, said she could not say much about DeStefano's resignation.
"There's a lot of talented students and staff at Salem High School and I know whenever the superintendent makes a decision she has the best interests of students and staff in mind," Driscoll said.
Ruiz said in her letter that she and Assistant Superintendent Kate Carbone will have a "consistent presence" at the high school during the change in leadership. Ruiz has scheduled a meeting on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the library at Salem High School to answer questions from the public.
"The important piece here for me is to ensure continuity of the work," Ruiz said. "The high school is doing a lot of important work."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.