METHUEN — During his nine years as a principal at Marsh Grammar School, Rick Beshara became the Principal Who Kissed a Pig.
He earned the moniker by agreeing in 2009 to kiss a pig for a fundraiser, and unwittingly wound up with the pig on the cover of a local magazine.
“It kicked off our Reach For the Stars literacy fundraiser. Children read books and earned points towards purchasing books. I told the children of the lower school if we reached our goal, I’d kiss the pig — which I did,” said Beshara, who has been involved in the Methuen community for decades as a resident, even when his career as an educator took him to other parts of the state.
Beshara, who was associate principal for five years and supervising principal for four, will step down at the end of this school year to “take another adventure.” That will not include putting his feet up, he said. Rather, he may look to dive back into teaching, a profession in which he has spent much of his career.
Born in Lawrence and raised in Methuen, Beshara graduated from Tenney High School in 1971, one of the last graduating classes before the existing high school opened.
In that time, the district has changed quite a bit, he said, with the adoption of grammar schools that host kindergarten through eighth grade, renovation of buildings into grammar schools, the opening of a new high school, and the massive renovation and expansion of that now not-so-new high school.
“Methuen has gotten much bigger and more diverse than when I grew up,” he said.
Beshara started his teaching career in Methuen in 1975, but lost his job in 1981 after the voter anti-tax revolt that ushered in Proposition 2 1/2 and restricted property tax and local government spending hikes. He spent four years in the private sector, but was laid off in 1985 and returned to education.
He taught in Lawrence for three years, and then six more years in Methuen before landing a job as an assistant principal at the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District east of Brockton. After eight years there, and one in Peabody, he was hired in 2004 in Methuen.
He stayed involved with his hometown while he worked elsewhere, coaching a slew of youth sports in Methuen, including soccer, football and basketball, working with the high school boosters and the Festival of Trees, and delving into the Relay for Life, particularly after winning his own battle with cancer in the 2000s.
He became the associate principal of Marsh when he returned to work here in 2004. “It was like coming home,” he said. But, he added that his experience elsewhere was valuable. “It wasn’t just tunnel vision to Methuen,” he said. “I could see how others do things and bring a different perspective to the community.”
In 2009, about the same time he was getting familiar with a pig in the name of literacy, he was named supervising principal.
His personal opinion is that the K-8 model embraced in Methuen is not the best, though that decision was made before he was hired on. The building is too large for younger students — all four grammar schools house more than 1,000 students — and the larger staff is more difficult to coordinate. “It’s harder to make an impact,” he said.
But he adjusted by strengthening the PTO and building a relationship with it, by being a presence in the classroom and visible to students in the halls and classes, and by building school events like the ice cream social, Fun Day and Fall Festival. “Those are the things the students will remember when they leave,” he said.
Stephen Sierpina, Beshara’s recently-named successor and currently principal of Consentino, Haverhill’s sole K-8 school, differs from Beshara in that he likes the K-8 model. Keeping younger students in one building when they are younger is less disruptive, he said. But he wants to follow a similar tack after he starts at Marsh on July 1 by cultivating community.
“I want to involve myself in events in Methuen, youth sports events, the Santa Parade, high school events,” said Sierpina, a Haverhill native. “I want to not just be principal of a school, I really want to become a leader throughout the community and make sure all the things that happen in Marsh, people know about.”
Sierpina said he was tapped by Haverhill Superintendent James Scully to lead Consentino a year before it was converted from a middle school to a K-8 school. He said that experience impressed on him the importance of paying attention to details and communicating with parents and staff.
“We had to roll it out to the community, explain to people what we were doing and why,” he said. “People were nervous, understandably, with young kids coming in with middle school kids. It taught me a great deal that had to do with really being able to articulate the reasons we were doing it. I spent a lot of time listening to parents, what they liked about it, what they didn’t like about it. Ultimately it transitioned smoothly and I think parents are happy with it.”
Methuen Superintendent Judith Scannell hired Sierpina last month after a roughly month-long search. She said his salary, which is still being negotiated, will be between $100,000 and $108,000.
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