Peabody High principal resigns

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff file photoPeabody High principal Eric Buckley shares his thoughts during a tour of the vocational programs at the school in February. Buckley, who has led the school since 2013, has resigned for personal reasons, according to school officials.

PEABODY — Peabody High will have a new principal this fall with the sudden resignation of its well-liked educational leader, Eric Buckley.

Buckley, who resigned last week for "personal reasons," according to school officials, spent the past six years as principal of the school. His career spanned 28 years in the Peabody Public Schools, most of it teaching or in administrative positions at the high school.

He was a highly regarded educator at the high school who took a student-centered approach to his job. He has led "the home of the Tanners" on Lowell Street since July 1, 2013, after he was promoted from the assistant principal's position in February of that year by former Superintendent Joe Mastrocola. Buckley filled a vacancy created by the retirement of former Principal Ed Sapienza, who had also been principal for six years.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who also serves as chairman of the School Committee and has been friends with Buckley for years, praised Buckley for dedicating nearly 30 years of his career to public education in Peabody.

"During his teaching and department head tenure at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, Eric inspired a generation of students with his love of social studies and world history," Bettencourt said. "As principal, Eric’s leadership helped guide Peabody High during its transition into a true 21st century learning environment. On behalf of a grateful community, we thank Eric for his commitment to education in our city and we wish him well in the next chapter of his career.”

"He's a great guy," said Superintendent Cara Murtagh. "He's leaving for personal reasons." Murtagh declined to comment further due to Buckley's resignation being a personnel issue.

Murtagh thanked him for his service to the schools.

"He's done a wonderful job," she said.

Murtagh is a former principal of the Carroll Elementary School and has been in the school system almost as long as Buckley. He loved his job, she said, noting he came up through the ranks. At one point, she said, while she was principal at the Carroll School, his three children were students there.

Buckley started his career in Peabody as a substitute teacher at the high school in 1991. He became a full-time teacher at the old Higgins Middle School in 1995, then moved back to the high school the following year.

This past year, Buckley tackled issues such as chronic absenteeism, prepared for a visit this coming school year from the association tasked with renewing the school's accreditation, and took on an initiative called Vision of the Graduate, which looked at different attributes students would attain before they graduate.

"He has a wonderful staff, a great, great staff," Murtagh said.

Principal replacement

Even though there's a little over a month until the new school year begins, Murtagh plans to hire a permanent principal, instead of looking for an interim. Her next step is to put together a search committee "to pick the best candidate for our students and staff at Peabody High." This will be Murtagh's first hire as a superintendent after one year in the post.

“In terms of the next principal, we seek an individual who will champion the success of all of our students, faculty and staff while maintaining excellent lines of communication with our many stakeholders," Bettencourt said.

The principal job posting does not list a salary, but Buckley earned $135,771 in 2018, with a regular salary of $134,82, according to city records. Applications are being accepted through Aug. 2. 

The schools are also in search of a new business manager with the departure after one year of Tom Lafleur, the former Gloucester schools chief financial officer. Murtagh said Lafleur was "wonderful" in his post, but he has since found a job closer to home. 

Buckley's hiring

It was a popular decision to hire Buckley six years ago. The announcement brought the School Committee and others to their feet to applaud him, a moment which left Buckley emotional. Buckley recalled having Bettencourt in his class at the high school when Buckley started his teaching career as a substitute teacher.

"He was my substitute long-term teacher for my American History class my senior year," Bettencourt said. "He was an excellent teacher who related well to his students and really seemed to care about each of us and our hopes and dreams for the future. He has been a lifelong friend."

By 2005, Buckley rose to be 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. 

Buckley has three grown children with his wife, Erin, who went through Peabody schools: sons Ryan and Luke, and daughter, Sarah, who graduated Peabody High in 2018 as the salutatorian.

Buckley also faced some health scares, including in 2009, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Treatments sent the disease into remission. In 2011, he was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and he received a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

In 2018, Buckley, along with nurses Deborah Compiano and Donna Guarente, was named a Red Cross Community Hero for helping to save a student's life by performing CPR and then using an automated external defibrillator on the young woman.

Buckley did not return a phone call for comment on this story.

Staff writer John Castelluccio contributed to this report.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.