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Union 28 names retiring principal Robert Mahler as interim superintendent

Robert Mahler, the retiring principal of Shutesbury Elementary School, this week was named interim superintendent for the Union 28 School District beginning Aug. 1.

That decision was made Wednesday by the Union 28 Joint Supervisory Committee, the governing body for the district made up of three representatives from each of the member towns — Leverett, Shutesbury, Erving, New Salem and Wendell.

Mahler and a second candidate, retiring principal Sheila Hunter of Swift River School in New Salem, each made statements and answered questions Wednesday night at Erving Elementary School. Mahler was selected by an 11-4 vote.

Mahler, who will negotiate a contract with the Union 28 Budget and Personnel Committee, will succeed Superintendent Joan Wickman. She is resigning July 31 to take a new job as the superintendent-principal of a pre-kindergarten to Grade 8 school in Carlisle.

Wickman, who lives in Westhampton, was selected from a field of 30 applicants and is expected to start in Carlisle on Aug. 1.

Scott Bastarache, chairman of the Joint Supervisory Committee, said Mahler’s appointment “will most likely be an 11-month position, serving from Aug. 1st through June 30th.”

He said the committee decided last month to advertise the permanent superintendent position only within Union 28.

Michael DeChiara, the chairman of the Shutesbury School Committee and a member of the Joint Supervisory Committee, said choosing an interim superintendent from within Union 28 also is important because the district will hire three new principals and a new special education director next year.

Also, the district faces the possibility of Shutesbury and Leverett leaving to join the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District.

“There’s a lot of change that’s coming in the next year, and, with what we’re looking at, we really thought it was important to have someone who understood Union 28,” said DeChiara. “You couldn’t expect someone to come in and not understand the basics of what are the towns, what are the schools, and what are the issues.”

Union 28 has four elementary schools with nearly 600 students.

Mahler said Thursday, “I’m looking forward to serving the community, and Union 28. I’ve worked there for seven years, I know staff, community members and town officials and serving them in this new capacity is really quite exciting.”

He said that he looks forward to helping the new administrators settle into their new roles.

“One of my main goals is to orient them and introduce them to meld them into the existing structures,” Mahler said. “We have four unique schools, so I want to make sure that that orientation is complete, that the culture of the schools accepts these new people and that they each find their own niche.”

DeChiara said Mahler is a good candidate because he combines educational vision and commitment to children with a practical understanding of what the towns need.

“Bob did a phenomenal job implementing effective education in Shutesbury, and what I’ve seen is that he supports the teachers and staff and helps them grow, he cares about the kids and he has sincerely engaged both the parents and the town,” said DeChiara. “So my sense is that he’s done that at the principal level, and I think he can bring that same approach to the other towns in Union 28.”

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