Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss announced on Friday the appointment of Susan Stevens as the new Chilmark head of school.
Currently a guidance counselor and special education coordinator at the Bak Middle School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., a public magnet school, Mrs. Stevens has been a summer resident of Edgartown for 27 years. Her career in education began in 1976 and includes a wide array of teaching, from gifted to special needs, guidance and some administrative work. She has a sub-specialty in teaching children with autism.
“I spoke with Mrs. Stevens last night at her home in Florida and she was truly excited to be joining our team. She will bring broad experience in both classroom and special education as well as many years as a guidance counselor and building coordinator to this position,” Mr. Weiss said on Friday.
Chosen from three finalists, she will replace Diane Gandy, who has been head of school in Chilmark since 2004.
Mr. Weiss said yesterday that he expects the salary to be set at $82,000 and that Mrs. Stevens will receive a multi-year contract.
“I am very excited,” said Mrs. Stevens by telephone from Florida, where she is wrapping up her work and the end of a school year there. She said she plans to come to the Island in late June to visit the school again before summer recess. Although the position is structured as a 10-month job with no work in July or August, Mrs. Stevens will begin work this summer in order to get settled and up to speed before September. Among other things, she will attend a retreat for Island school principals in early August.
“My goal is really to try to get up there prior to the end of school and meet with Diane [Gandy] to go over the ropes. I really need to get to know the school a little better to see exactly what their needs are,” she said.
The head of school position requires both administrative work and teaching reading part-time. Mrs. Stevens is enthusiastic about the double role. “The reason I’ve never gone into administration [before] is because in Florida, once you go into administration, you no longer work with the children,” she said.
With a history as a one-room school house that dates back to the early 1900s, the Chilmark School today has an enrollment of 33 children, kindergarten through fifth grade. There are three combined classrooms: K-1, 2-3 and 4-5. The school also houses a preschool which is managed independently of the public school.
The school uses project-based learning in its curriculum. For example, the school is currently working on a unit about China. Everything in the curriculum for several weeks will focus on China in some way. The main hall of the school is decorated with different art and history projects relating to China.
Located at Beetlebung Corner, the school doesn’t have its own library, but uses the town library. It has no gymnasium or playground, but uses the Chilmark Community Center facilities. “It’s really a community school,” said Mr. Weiss.
“Since the classrooms are multi-grade, I feel like that fits right in with . . . what I do right now,” said Mrs. Stevens.
Her husband is principal of the Edgartown School, John Stevens, an Edgartown native who returned to the Island full-time two years ago. They were married on the Vineyard in 1981 and have three children; the youngest is in college, the middle child is entering graduate school in the fall and the oldest recently completed a graduate program and is training to be a music engineer. In her spare time Mrs. Stevens likes to read and play tennis, and she enjoys continuing course work in education.
Mr. Weiss said Mrs. Stevens was chosen for the job in her own right. “I looked at her as an individual . . . It’s a bonus for her husband, and it’s a bonus for her,” he said, adding: “I was looking for someone who would fit the Chilmark community well. That was the most important thing.” He continued:
“There were three things that really helped me make the decision. Her willingness to work as a reading teacher. Her experience with a diversity of students — with gifted students, special education students, and people from all different backgrounds.
“And finally, her interpersonal skills. At the Chilmark School, parents and community members are there all the time. She will have to interact daily with people, making it very important to have strong interpersonal skills.”