By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — No sooner had classes ended for the summer than the city made its first key move for the next school year.
Superintendent James Scully named John Mele principal of Consentino School. He has been serving as an assistant principal there.
Mele replaces Stephen Sierpina, who left Consentino at the end of this school year to become principal of the Marsh Grammar School, a kindergarten-to-grade-eight school in Methuen. Sierpina was in his third year leading Consentino.
Consentino’s other assistant principal, Brendon Parker, said he is also leaving Consentino for an administrative job at the Marsh.
Scully said he needs to fill the two assistant principal positions at Consentino and possibly other administrative positions. He said he expects to make announcements within 10 days.
“It’s possible that two to four other assistant principal positions may become vacant,” Scully said. “Other assistant principals are interviewing elsewhere for jobs.”
Scully said one reason administrators are leaving is for higher pay in other districts, adding that principal salaries in Haverhill are about $12,000 below the regional average. He said Sierpina will receive a raise of about $20,000 from Methuen and that higher pay was a major factor in his decision to leave Haverhill.
“These are people who have had myriad experiences and had the opportunity to work in an urban district with growing ELL and special education programs,” Scully said. “The special education rate in Haverhill is one of the fastest growing rates of urban school districts in the state.”
Scully said Mele is currently paid about $72,000 per year and that the job at Consentino pays between $90,000 and $95,000.
He said Mele’s contract is still being negotiated.
In announcing Mele’s appointment, Scully said Mele’s experience and long tenure in an urban school setting working with a diverse student population made him a logical successor to Stephen Sierpina.
“John’s strong administrative capabilities of professionalism, dedication, a strong work ethic and a high energy level will continue the strong educational leadership for the Consentino School,” Scully said.
Mele said he expects about 1,000 students this fall and that Consentino, which served about 950 students this past school year, is the second largest school in the city next to Haverhill High School.
About 60 percent of Consentino students qualify for free or reduced lunch, Mele said. This fall, the school will serve about 100 beginner English language learners in grades three to eight.
“We’ll be taking on the ELL beginner program this fall, which is being moved from the Nettle Middle School,” Mele said.
About 20 percent of Consentino’s students have special needs.
“This will be our third year with kindergarten-to-grade-four students in the building and we want to build on the success that Mr. Sierpina started,” Mele said. “We’re getting a lot of requests from parents who want to enroll their children in our K-to-4 program. We’re getting so many requests that we can’t accept all of the students whose parents have been calling us.”
Scully previously said Consentino has a reputation as being a tough school, but that it’s also a school with “great students and caring teachers.” Scully was principal there for five years in the early 2000s before retiring and then returning to become the district’s superintendent in 2010.
Consentino was converted from a grade-five-to-eight-school to a kindergarten-to-grade-eight school for the 2011-2012 school year under a pilot program at its main feeder school, Tilton Elementary School became overcrowded. Consentino had empty rooms, and the Tilton School had too many students in its kindergarten-to-fourth-grade classes, school officials said at the time.
“Mr. Sierpina, Mr. Scully and I are strong proponents of the K-to-8 model,” Mele said about the program that allows students to stay together as a group from their early years until they graduate from the eighth grade.
“We have a strong school community, a very dedicated staff, and strong parental support,” said Mele, who spent 16 years teaching in Lawrence. “I feel very comfortable being in an urban school setting as I’ve spend my whole career as an urban educator.”
Mele received his bachelor degree in English from Merrimack College and a master’s degree in ESL (English as a Second Language) curriculum and instruction from the University of Massachusetts.
He taught in Lawrence public schools for 16 years then became an assistant principal at an elementary school in Fitchburg.
Mele was hired as an assistant principal at Tilton Elementary School in 2008, before being transferred to Consentino as an assistant principal.