For decades, middle-class families have moved to Swampscott in order to enroll their children in its schools. Its students routinely head off to Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities, and higher education is the routine.
Although students have consistently outpaced state averages in MCAS and SAT tests in the last decade, it has occurred amid a whirlwind of change among the district’s top educators.
More than a dozen people have served as district superintendent and high school principal in Swampscott over the last 10 years. The trend continued last month, when Superintendent Lynne Celli announced that she would shift to a part-time position in the district in June. Also, Swampscott High School Principal Layne Millington — who had applied for high school posts in Peabody and in Manchester-Essex — accepted the high school principal’s post in Marblehead.
Celli, who is in the third year of her four-year contract, traced her pending departure to a change in makeup on the town’s School Committee. “I’m working for my third different School Committee; there’s not one member on it that hired me,” she said. “I think they want to look to someone who may want a vision that’s more matched with theirs.”
Millington, who was hired by Celli in 2010, did not respond to interview requests. In his January application and cover letter for the principal’s post at Manchester Essex High School, he cited a desire “to examine positions which offer an expanded leadership role in public education.”
Marblehead, another high-achieving district, also has seen several high school principals and superintendents come and go in the last decade. This is the second time in three years that the town has hired a Swampscott High School principal. In 2010, Brian Salzer left SHS after one year to become the business manager of the Marblehead school district. After a year, Salzer rose to acting superintendent before accepting the superintendent’s position in Northampton.
In a statement, Marblehead Superintendent Greg Maass praised Millington’s collaborative style. “His colleagues and peers had positive comments to describe him, such as: He is genuine, a decision maker, he truly cares about all students and faculty, he has an open door policy, he never turns anyone away, he is a great listener, he is not afraid to make effective change. Everything that Layne Millington has to offer will strengthen Marblehead’s high-performing high school,” Maass said.
Celli and Swampscott School Committee members Richard Kraft and Marianne Speranza-Hartmann lamented Millington’s decision to leave and praised his short tenure. “I think he opened the lines of communication at that high school wonderfully. He’s a people person,” said Celli, who will be in charge of hiring a new principal by the end of June.
Kraft and Speranza-Hartmann said the town would seek to hire an interim superintendent for the next year, with the goal of finding a permanent replacement for the following year. They also said in the coming weeks and months, the school board plans to hold community forums to discuss why so many top educators have come and gone in Swampscott.
“We are actually going to do some sort of self-evaluation,” said Kraft. “It definitely is an issue and it’s something that really needs to be turned around for the long-term success of our students,” said Kraft.
Speranza-Hartmann speculated that Swampscott’s high expectations might have something to do with the turnover. “I think our parents are tough on administrators, but I think that’s the case in a lot of towns. It’s got to have something to do with the culture. I don’t know if we’re welcoming enough. Are we too much in their business or not enough? I don’t know what it is,” she said.
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, traced the short tenure and dwindling pool of applicants for superintendent and high school principal positions to the pressure of the jobs. When asked about high turnover in towns like Swampscott, he also pointed to the community’s culture.
“The bottom line is if you have that much turnover, you have to look at the question of what’s in the culture, what’s going on there in building the relationship and maintaining the relationship,” said Scott.