To the editor:

I would like to respond directly to two concerns raised by parents that were reflected in the Salem News article of March 15, “Hot seat at Salem High.”

During last Thursday’s community meeting at Salem High School, members of the school community expressed numerous concerns that included the lack of communication and engagement with students and parents. These concerns are valid and we have begun to modify our practices to address these challenges. We are committed to revising our approach to communicating with families, students and staff at Salem High School and will also be doing the same for the overall communication and engagement for the district as a whole. Already, a community forum is set for April 4, where Dr. Pacifico and I will continue to meet and engage with families, students and members of the Salem High School community. This forum will be the beginning of a series of forums and other opportunities for community engagement at Salem High School.

I would also like to address the concerns that have been raised regarding the timing of Dr. Pacifico’s appointment at Salem High School and how I was able to appoint her so quickly after the principal’s resignation. As you may recall, last year, Principal David Angeramo submitted his resignation in late March. Unfortunately, due to the late resignation of Principal Angeramo, Salem was behind other districts that had already completed their hiring process for the following year, putting us at a disadvantage in our ability to attract, consider and hire experienced, motivated leaders. Nevertheless, we embarked on the community-engaged process to find the next principal of Salem High School. Through that process, Ms. DeStefano emerged as the finalist. Although she had not served as a principal, she had professional experiences in a variety of leadership roles, including in an urban school district. While we understood this was going to be a difficult and complex role for an inexperienced principal, we were optimistic that with our support, she could be successful.

Unfortunately, it was becoming clear to both parties that this was not the right fit, and that a parting of ways appeared to be imminent at no fault of either party. In order to be proactive, I began researching potential candidates. Dr. Vittoria Pacifico was referred to me through her work as an administrator coach for the students in the School Leadership program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Through our conversations and reference checking, it became clear that Dr. Pacifico was not only an experienced school leader, but also has had experience in leading schools undergoing difficult transitions.

Because I wanted to be prepared for a potential parting of ways, I did my due diligence to ensure that Dr. Pacifico had what we needed in order for her to serve as the high school principal. While I understand the frustration of the school community in not having been engaged in the process of selecting Dr. Pacifico, my priority was to ensure that the school had the leadership continuity and stability it needed in order to move forward. The timing of this leadership change did not afford me the ability to conduct the community engaged process that I deeply value in selecting school leaders.

I always guide my work and decisions on what I believe is best for our students. Providing the school with experienced leadership was a priority in this transition. I was fortunate to have found, in Dr. Pacifico, an educator who is experienced as a school leader and who is also committed to working in strong collaboration with the students, staff and families. Her commitment to collaborating with the school community and her experience is what Salem High School needs now.

Last Thursday’s meeting with parents made it clear to me that there is much work to be done to create trust and true engagement between the district and our families, students and community. I am committed to doing that work and look forward to resetting our approach so that students, parents and educators feel and experience a true partnership with the district.

Margarita Ruiz

Superintendent of Schools