A new, yet somewhat familiar face will greet students at Silver Hill Elementary School this year.
Scott Gray, Haverhill's former director of safe and supportive schools, has been named Silver Hill's interim principal for the 2020-2021 year, Superintendent Margaret Marotta said.
Silver Hill is the final Haverhill school to fill a principal vacancy for the coming year. Gray is the city's fifth new principal.
Gray's appointment is a welcome one, Marotta said, as he has already been working with the Silver Hill community to build the school's social-emotional special needs program.
"Silver Hill has a program with kids for social-emotional disabilities that Scott's been working to shore up over the last year or two, so he's been working with the staff there," Marotta said. "He's found a place for himself there and he feels welcome. The people I've spoken to there feel comfortable with him and that he'll be a good match."
Gray's appointment fills Haverhill school leadership vacancies caused by educators shifting to other roles in their schools or leaving the district for other communities. For example, Consentino Middle School Principal John Mele and Assistant Principal Richard Poor swapped positions, as did Pentucket Lake Elementary School Principal Maureen Gray and Assistant Principal James Brennan.
As he takes over at Silver Hill, Gray said his primary responsibility over the past two years was overseeing the school district's social-emotional programs. As part of that job, he evaluated teachers and counselors in student support centers at four schools — Silver Hill, Nettle, Consentino and Haverhill High. He also played a key role in implementing the ALICE active shooter program, including training administrators on what to do if someone has a gun in a school.
Prior to coming to Haverhill, Gray worked in the special education departments at Lowell and Reading public schools. He also served as principal of Salem Prep in Salem, Massachusetts, which Gray said is a school similar to Greenleaf Academy in Haverhill. Greenleaf Academy was formerly called Haverhill Alternative School and is a program housing students who need individual teaching because they do not respond well to a traditional classroom setting.
At Silver Hill, Gray be in charge of 640 students in kindergarten through grade five. Brendan Parker returns as assistant principal. Gray takes over the principal job from Mary Ellen Lucas, who left Haverhill for a position in Methuen public schools.
"I'm up to the challenge," Gray said of his new role. "I'm a level-headed person who uses common sense."
Gray plans to hit the ground running when the school year begins, and has already been working to adapt Silver Hill for the COVID-related challenges that lie ahead.
"Students will have not been to school for six months. They haven't seen their friends," said Gray, who plans to implement what he calls "moment breaks" throughout the school day, and is looking into art therapy as a way to keep children engaged. "Physical education as we know it is going to change. I want them to move (exercise) more than the two recesses we have a day, even if it's a 10-minute walk in the hall."
Yoga and meditation are possibilities, Gray said.
"I expect every child to come to school happy," he said. "I want the staff to come to work happy, and I don't want them apprehensive. We have to be ready to serve the students as soon as they get off the bus."
Marotta said Patricia Hebert, a principal with Lynn public schools, progressed in negotiations for the Silver Hill principal job to where Haverhill made her an offer. However, Hebert ended up staying at Drewicz Elementary School in Lynn, Marotta said.
"She talked to her superintendent about leaving and they asked her, in light of the (COVID-19) situation, to stay and support her school," Marotta said of Hebert, who lives in Haverhill. "She's a professional and decided to do that."
Gray is certified by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a special needs teacher for grades five to 12 and special education administrator. Marotta said Gray is pursuing his principal's license with the state.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, there are three ways an administrator can become licensed. The methods are: completing an approved educator preparation program; going through a panel review process; or completing an apprenticeship/internship program sponsored by the district. School districts may also apply for a hardship waiver. Under that scenario, while the person is employed they must complete the apprenticeship/internship. Once a principal is licensed, the license is valid for five years.