By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The School Department’s revolving door is in danger of spinning again.
If it happens, Haverhill will continue a trend of losing top school administrators to other communities.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Malone is one of four finalists for the job of superintendent of the Ayer Shirley Regional School District, which serves about 1,700 students — one fourth of Haverhill’s student population.
Last week, Haverhill school officials announced that Nettle Middle School Principal Michael Rossi has agreed to become the next principal of Marshall Middle School in Billerica. Haverhill Superintendent James Scully said Rossi will finish the school year at Nettle and start his new job in the summer.
On Tuesday, consultant Mike Gilbert announced the names of the four Ayer Shirley Regional School District finalists during a brief School Committee meeting in Shirley. Malone was one of them.
Gilbert said current Superintendent Carl Mock is retiring and his contract ends June 30. Gilbert said Mock has been superintendent since the district became a regional district three years ago.
The towns of Ayer and Shirley are just northwest of Littleton and off Interstate 495.
Gilbert said the next step in the selection process is site visits to the candidates’ districts next week. The following week, each candidate will spend one day meeting staff, parents and students. Community open house events are part of the process along with a series of public interviews by the School Committee. Gilbert said a new superintendent could be named shortly after the final public interview scheduled for March 28.
Malone, a lifelong resident of Haverhill, said has worked as a teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, principal, and currently assistant superintendent.
“I love what I do in Haverhill and I’m passionate about it, but I would like to become a superintendent,” she said.
Scully called Malone a “hard working, focused and driven educator.”
“She knows what works for children, knows what works in the classroom and knows the elements of a successful school,” Scully said. “Everyone should be looking to develop themselves to their full potential.”
Rossi, who grew up in Haverhill and still lives here, has been a principal in the city since 2004. His children attend Haverhill schools.
City officials said Rossi’s current salary is $97,000 per year and that he is getting a raise of more than $25,000 from Billerica.
The loss of Rossi is the latest in a trend of Haverhill school administrators leaving for a bigger paycheck elsewhere.
But Scully said Malone’s interest in leaving is to move up the career ladder.
“Running a school system is like coaching a team,” Scully said. “You never know when someone is going to get drafted by another team.”
Scully said that if Malone is offered the job in Ayer/Shirley, he will look for someone to replace her who has the same level of energy needed to help keep the school system moving forward.
Around this time last year, Haverhill lost Consentino School Principal Raymond Sierpina to a school in Methuen. At that time, Scully said Sierpina received a raise of at least $15,000 from Methuen and that higher pay was a factor is his decision to leave Haverhill.
In May of 2012, Haverhill’s School Committee approved a $30,000 pay raise for Malone during a secret meeting which the mayor and one School Committee member were absent from.
Malone is a former assistant principal and principal of Consentino School. She was promoted to her current position in 2011.
The promotion hiked Malone’s annual pay from $90,000 to $120,000, including $8,000 that she was due as a result of obtaining a doctorate degree; a $1,000 retirement payment that all administrators receive; a $1,500 travel allowance; and a $3,000 seniority bonus, according to paperwork on the pay raise.
Scully, who himself was given a $35,000 raise by the School Committee in 2011 — hiking his pay from $150,000 a year to $185,000 — recommended the raise and a two-year contract for Malone. At the time, Scully said she deserved a raise because she had obtained her doctorate degree and that her job performance was exemplary.
“She has sought and secured thousands of dollars of additional funding that has gone directly into education programs,” Scully said in support of the raise. “This coupled with her direct involvement in resolving serious legal and fiscal issues around the ELL (English Language Learners) program has saved this community from serious financial and legal consequences.”