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Springs Details Plan to Find New Principal

Thu, 03/09/2023 - 12:03
Debra Winter, left, the Springs School superintendent, has outlined a timeline of steps to find a successor to Christine Cleary, the principal, center, who resigned on Feb. 28.
Christine Sampson

As of Monday, the Springs School District was one of at least 10 Long Island districts looking to hire principals or assistant principals for the 2023-24 school year, according to the Council of Administrators and Supervisors, a Long Island professional organization.

The number grows to 16 when Board of Cooperative Educational Services principal positions are taken into account. Three more Long Island Districts are seeking a superintendent or assistant superintendent, and six others are seeking senior administrators in specific academic areas such as special education, technology, and world languages.

“It’s not just Springs School,” Debra Winter, the Springs superintendent, said by email this week. “These are tough jobs!”

She’s cutting to the chase in the search for a new principal, with applications due by the end of the day on Tuesday — just two weeks after the Springs School Board accepted the resignations of both Christine Cleary, the current principal, and Josh Odom, the assistant principal, effective June 30. Ms. Cleary plans to move away from the East End after 17 years with Springs, while Mr. Odom will become the Montauk School’s next superintendent and principal.

The Springs principal position was published last Thursday on a statewide job board that is popular among teachers for its listing of nearly every opening in public schools, charter schools, and even private schools. “It casts a wide web,” Ms. Winter said.

Springs “seeks a dynamic, collaborative, and energetic individual who is committed to developing knowledge, skills, and practices to create a culturally responsive learning and working environment,” the BOCES job ad reads. “. . . Their beliefs must support high expectations and ethics for all students and employees. It is preferred that the successful candidate should have a minimum of five years of teaching experience and three or more years as an educational leader, preferably in an elementary/middle school building.” Full details can be found online at

It excludes a salary range, saying only that the year-round position offers a “competitive salary commensurate with experience.” The most recent annual salary on record for a Springs principal is listed in the district’s school board database as $155,000, with Ms. Cleary’s appointment on Feb. 9, 2021.

By mid-April, Ms. Winter intends to hire a new principal who would start on July 1.

During Tuesday’s school board work session, she described a process that would involve extensive community input. A survey in English and Spanish has gone out, due back March 17, asking stakeholders the question, “What do they want to see in the next building principal?”

The district will convene two committees, whose members will be expected to sign a confidentiality agreement for their eventual role of helping screen finalists. These committees will include teachers, parents, administrators, school board members, a mental health professional, and support, custodial, and clerical employees. Confidentiality is required, Ms. Winter explained, because applicants from other districts will likely not have told their supervisors of their interest in leaving their current jobs.

Also Tuesday, Barbara Dayton, the school board president, addressed the critical nature of the comments made during the previous week’s meeting by numerous parents and teachers, who implored the school board to investigate, as one parent put it, the “elephant in the room” that “needs to be discovered.”

“Someone asked what is wrong with Springs School, and hearing this question from worried parents and community members was really heartbreaking,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with our school that a sense of community and working together can’t resolve.”

“The board is very aware of what’s going on in our school,” she later continued. “Ms. Winter has been our educational leader for the past six years and she will be until we look for her replacement next year. She has our full support and we are very happy with the numerous improvements that have occurred under her watch. We take great pride in the successes of this district, of which there are many.”

Ms. Dayton also said “the administration and board feel very badly” about the way Ms. Cleary’s and Mr. Odom’s resignations were announced on Feb. 27: by email to the entire community at once, including the school’s faculty. “Things were happening very quickly over the course of that day, and if we could go back in time and handle them differently, we certainly would,” Ms. Dayton continued. “It was regrettable, but it was a learning experience for us and we will make sure there are procedures in place so that that does not happen again.”

She characterized the public comments on Feb. 28 as “not a productive way to deal with the issues that we are facing collectively.”

“Out of respect for the fact that we are searching for a new administration, let’s use this time to focus on improvements that would benefit our students and our community,” Ms. Dayton concluded. “It is really time to hit the reset button and work together.”


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