Retired Edgartown School principal Edward J. Jerome will take over on Tuesday as interim principal of West Tisbury School, superintendent of schools Dr. James H. Weiss announced this week. West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, leaves this weekend for active duty in California and Iraq.
Mr. Jerome, who is 59, will work alongside assistant principal Robert C. Lane at least through the end of the school year, Mr. Weiss said this week. The superintendent said he will consider options for a long-term interim principal at the end of the year. Mr. Halt is expected to be away for 14 to 24 months.
A resident of Edgartown, Mr. Jerome headed the Edgartown School from 1979 to 2005 and also served as interim superintendent for three months in fall 2004. He took his first principal job in New Hampshire when he was 25 years old. In 2000 he was recognized as a nationally distinguished principal.
"We're saddened that Michael is being called to active duty and I certainly wish him a safe and quick return to his family and the West Tisbury School," Mr. Jerome said. "In the meantime, I consider it an honor to help the West Tisbury School and Michael while he's away serving our country."
Although Mr. Halt received warning in the fall of a possible call to duty, official orders to report to Port Hueneme, Calif., on Jan. 15 arrived only last week. The 42-year-old has been a Marine since 1987 and joined the Reserves in 1992 after leaving active duty to pursue a career in teaching. He took over as West Tisbury School principal following the resignation of Elaine Pace in July 2004.
Mr. Halt spent much of this week going from classroom to classroom to speak to students about where he is going and what he will be doing. For the staff and students at the West Tisbury School, who speak to each other on a first-name basis, Mr. Halt has gone from Mike to Lieut. Colonel Halt.
A military advisor to United States Navy Seabees, the construction battalions of the Navy, Mr. Halt will train a unit of nearly 200 men for six to seven months on a military base in California before going with them to Fallujah, Iraq, for seven to eight months.
The news that Mr. Halt will go from one of the world's safest places to one of its most dangerous has moved the community, as well as people beyond the Island.
"It's amazing to me the number of contacts I've had from the newspapers, radio stations," Mr. Weiss said. "Something about Michael Halt going to Iraq as a Marine has really struck a chord with people."
On Monday night, three of the five members of the Up-Island Regional School District committee met with Mr. Weiss to discuss the legal obligations of the committee and the school to Mr. Halt. The committee voted to grant Mr. Halt's request for military leave and to pay him the difference between his principal salary and military salary. This will amount to roughly $1,400 per month; Mr. Halt's monthly salary at the West Tisbury School is about $8,200 and the military pays him about $6,800 per month.
The board also voted to comply with the federal law requiring that Mr. Halt have the same or similar job upon his return. Mr. Weiss noted that this means Mr. Halt could be offered a different principal position in the school system, but not a lower ranking position at the West Tisbury School.