Six Island educators are among the nine finalists now vying for the interim principal jobs in both the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

The high-speed search for school leaders comes less than a month after two principals in the Up-Island district - Elaine Pace and Carlos Colley - handed in their resignations after each serving three years on the job.

Public interviews for replacements began last night and are expected to conclude tonight for the Chilmark School post and Wednesday night for West Tisbury's top administrative position.

Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash said he would appoint the new principals by Thursday morning for one-year contracts. He had received 20 applications for the two jobs.

Three of the five finalists for the West Tisbury School's front office are Islanders: current assistant principal Robert Lane, the Vineyard high school dean of students Michael Halt and Oak Bluffs third grade teacher Deborah Hammett.

Also in the running for the K-8 school in West Tisbury are Kathy Walsh, an assistant principal from Connecticut, and Christine DeBenedetto, director of an elementary charter school in Somerville.

Ms. Walsh and Ms. Hammett were interviewed last night. The remaining three candidates are scheduled for interviews tomorrow beginning at 4 p.m. in the West Tisbury School library.

Chilmark School finalists are Robert Breckenridge, Joy Robinson-Lynch, Elaine Weintraub and Diane Gandy.

Mr. Breckenridge is a known quantity in Chilmark as the former Spanish teacher for the past three years in both the Chilmark and Tisbury schools. Ms. Weintraub is a longtime social studies teacher at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. And Ms. Lynch is a West Tisbury therapist who specializes in working with children.

Ms. Gandy, a former principal at a Framingham elementary school, was a finalist in 1996 for the job of principal at the Oak Bluffs School.

Both Ms. Gandy and Ms. Lynch were interviewed last night. Mr. Breckenridge and Ms. Weintraub are signed up for interviews today starting at 4 p.m. in the Chilmark Library.

The search for new principals kicked off less than a month ago in the wake of Ms. Pace's decision to leave the West Tisbury School and Mr. Colley's departure from the Chilmark School.

The two veteran principals, having wrapped up their first three-year contracts, hit a stumbling block in negotiations for a new deal this summer. Both were offered only one-year renewals.

Mr. Cash lavished praise on the job performance of both Ms. Pace and Mr. Colley, but it was no secret that the last academic season up-Island was politically grueling.

Cuts in state educational funding to the district prompted finance committee members in West Tisbury to renew their calls for dismantling the regional school district, arguing that their town's taxpayers were shouldering an unfair portion of the schooling costs in the three town district which also includes Aquinnah and Chilmark.

By January, the finance committee had intensified its fiscal remedy to include recommendations to close down the Chilmark School or demand that Chilmark taxpayers pay extra to keep the small school at Beetlebung Corner going.

It turned into a winter of high-stakes meetings and ambitious number-crunching by finance and school committees followed by the formation of a task force in Chilmark, charged with bolstering enrollment and recommending changes to improve the school.

A survey conducted by the task force in Chilmark found that some parents were dissatisfied with communication and leadership. The school has seen four principals in less than 10 years. Staff turnover has also posed a challenge: Six full-time faculty members have left since 1998.

Of the 58 surveys returned, 13 respondents said they were not happy with the job school leaders - from the advisory council on up to the Mr. Colley and Mr. Cash - were doing in the realm of educational support for students.

Recommendations released by the task force this summer called for addressing leadership and management issues and the need to study models for a principal who also takes on teaching duties.

The task force also urged the creation of a preschool in Chilmark to meet the needs of parents in Aquinnah and Chilmark and to establish a feeder program into the kindergarten.