By Katina Caraganis
LUNENBURG -- The three finalists vying to become principal at the Primary School showcased their talents Tuesday night during a public forum at the school in front of parents, teachers, and members of the screening committee.
After a failed Proposition 2 1/2 override at last year's Town Meeting that cut more than $1 million from the school's budget, the district reconfigured all grade levels in the existing buildings and no longer housed students in the TC Passios Elementary School.
The appointment will be made March 1, and the candidate chosen will start July 1.
The finalists are: Elaine Blaisdell, who was previously the student-services coordinator in the district before the position was eliminated due to budget cuts, and has been serving as interim principal of the Primary School since the beginning of the school year; Tara Hanley, a principal in the Quabbin Regional School District; and Jill Peterson of Townsend, currently as assistant principal in the Hollis-Brookline School District at its primary school.
Each candidate was given 30 minutes during the public forum to discuss her strengths and weaknesses, and field questions from the public.
Jill Peterson has previous experience as an assistant principal in the Quabbin Regional School District, but the position was cut. She said her biggest passion is education and being in a school setting, and feels this position is the best option for her. She has also worked in the North Middlesex Regional School District.
"I like being in a building and being a part of a family," she said, adding that Quabbin "wanted me to work more on the district level, and my passion isn't there."
She also said she prides herself on working with her staff as a team and relies on them for support and taking on projects.
One of her main objectives if hired is bringing back the music program, which was cut with the failed override.
"We have to educate the whole student, and music is an important component. We can look to the community for help. We have a lot of small businesses that always want to support education but maybe don't know how. ... Oftentimes, they are grateful to share their craft and happy to be asked."
Tara Hanley has experience working in the Quabbin Regional School District and North Middlesex Regional School District and has experience in special education.
"Being a SPED teacher helped prepare me to be a principal with organizational skills, patience and handling difficult situations and meetings well," she said. "It takes a while to learn your leadership style. My leadership style has evolved over the years."
She said it's important to highlight students' achievements, including progress in a specific area or on a report card, and she always greets students getting off the bus in the morning and does bus duty in the afternoon as well.
"I know there are things that can always be done better. I know when to say something is not working. I like to know what all the students are working on in the building. I also like to do all the scheduling in the building. I like to make sure teachers are getting what they need and students are getting the most educationally sound classroom time."
Elaine Blaisdell said she has made a lot of progress during her time as interim principal and would like to continue.
"All children are entitled to instructional excellence, and we need to continue to maintain high expectations," she said. "We have a strong group of educators who strive to make sure all students are entitled to find us focused on education. We need children who will be life-long learners and global communicators."
She said that while she only has a few months of experience as a principal, she's up for the challenge of a more permanent position.
""Otherwise, I would have moved on. I don't think I would have a problem finding a student-services coordinator position in another district."
Her biggest accomplishment during her interim time, she said, was a successful transition when the two schools were merged.
"We had to merge two schools and two staff and come up with a brand-new vision for everyone," she said. "We were able to do that with some comfort and safety and security."
Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.