As students were preparing to return to school, the city's director of special education announced she is leaving Haverhill for a job in Malden.
Pamela MacDonald, who was paid $132,000 annually in Haverhill, has submitted her resignation to Superintendent Margaret Marotta. MacDonald's last day in Haverhill is Sept. 25.
She will be replaced by her assistant director, Deborah Ibenez, who has been appointed interim director and will likely do that job for the school year.
"Pam has been working side by side with her assistant, completing plans for the coming school year," Marotta said. "She will clearly be missed, but we are excited that she has been offered the position of assistant superintendent (of pupil personnel services) for Malden public schools, and (we) will manage the needs of our special education department while we look for a replacement for Deborah Ibanez, who will fill her role."
Ibanez, who is paid $111,000 annually, is in her third year working for Haverhill schools. Her appointment as interim director was approved by the School Committee Sept. 10. Her director's salary is being negotiated, Marotta said.
"We will likely advertise the assistant special education director position immediately and have Deb serve as interim (director) for the school year," Marotta said.
Ibanez has 20 years experience working with special needs students and has been a special education administrator for the past five years, school officials said.
Ibanez said students with special needs deserve the same opportunities as regular education students.
"I believe in inclusion for all," she said. "One of the best things when I first came to Haverhill was I started to get involved with the unified sports program. It's been a great opportunity to see regular education and special education students working together side by side and I will definitely support that going forward."
Ibanez said she will be a champion for students who cannot advocate for themselves.
School Committee members praised Ibanez as she takes over the director's position. Committeeman Rich Rosa said he is confident in her ability to do the job.
"I've had a number of parents of students with special needs tell me they are very pleased with her and especially when she was our special education supervisor at the high school and more recently as our assistant special education director," Rosa said. "A lot of progress has been made in the special education department over the last couple of years, but a lot of work still needs to be done and I'm confident that ... (Ibenez) is the person to do that."
Marotta said MacDonald, who began working in Haverhill in 2016 as a compliance officer and then was promoted to special education director the following year, has been responsible for many improvements to special education across the school district.
Marotta said those changes included a significant increase in staff and support to help students with disabilities; bringing more students with disabilities into the general education setting; the creation of a Unified Sports program where students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers play sports together against neighboring districts; the creation of a special program for students with reading disabilities; and overseeing the move of the TEACH program to Bartlett School and the Alternative School to the Greenleaf School, which was renamed Greenleaf Academy. Those programs involve students with special needs.