Ending a Quick Search, School District Names Interim Principals for Year Ahead

By CHRIS BURRELL

Three consecutive days of interviews this week yielded two new principals up-Island: Michael Halt will take over at the West Tisbury School, and Diane Gandy becomes principal at the Chilmark School.

Mr. Halt, 39, will leave his post as vice-principal at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School to accept the interim principalship in West Tisbury.

Ms. Gandy, 56, comes to Chilmark from Framingham, where she was principal for six years at the Juniper Hill School, a K-5 school for bilingual students which was forced to close earlier this year due to budget cuts.

"We're going to have a really good team up-Island," said Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash.

"I want that region to work better this year. The staff and community need to feel that good spirit again," he added.

The dual resignations earlier this summer of Carlos Colley from Chilmark and Elaine Pace from West Tisbury followed a year of political turmoil in the up-Island regional school district, much of it fueled by cuts in state educational funding and efforts to disband the district.

Yesterday, Mr. Cash expressed some relief at the prospect of a new year with new faces and a focus on the basics.

After a year of highly-charged meetings in both West Tisbury and Chilmark, Mr. Cash said, "We need to get back on track with student learning."

Both appointments are for one year only. School leaders will commence a full-blown search for a permanent replacement this fall.

Mr. Halt, a former social studies teacher at the Vineyard high school who then served as dean of students at the school for the last three years, just earned his principal's certification this summer.

The 12-member search committee in West Tisbury picked Mr. Halt from a field of five finalists.

"What they wanted was a fresh face. They needed new energy and spark," said Mr. Cash.

Mr. Halt was unavailable for comment yesterday.

While Ms. Gandy's most recent assignment was in Framingham, she was a finalist for the Oak Bluffs principal job back in 1996.

She told the Gazette she has been spending summers in Oak Bluffs her entire life.

"I'm thrilled," she said. "It's just a place where I've always wanted to come. I just never thought it would be this soon."

The Juniper Hill School was also a K-5 setting like Chilmark, but much larger, with roughly 350 students. The Chilmark School is expecting to enroll about 60 students next week.

"She's a delightful person and a good communicator," said Mr. Cash of his choice in Chilmark. "She's going to be the most solid and cohesive person to come in and help restabilize that school."

The Chilmark School came under fire last year from members of the West Tisbury finance committee, who argued that low enrollment figures had driven per pupil expenses over the $20,000 mark.

The West Tisbury board recommended either shutting down the Chilmark School or pressuring Chilmarkers to pay a greater share of the up-Island school budget if they wanted to keep their little school in the center of town.

Chilmark officials, including selectmen, school leaders and many parents, rallied behind their school and formed a task force to investigate why some parents up-Island were choosing not to send their children to the school.

The task force urged the creation of a preschool inside the Chilmark School building as a way to boost the student census, acting as a feeder program into the kindergarten. The group also suggested handing the principal some teaching duties.

Earlier this summer, both Ms. Pace and Mr. Colley were offered only one-year contract renewals after each finished up their first three years on the job.