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Northampton Superintendent Brian Salzer resigns after two years

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>Northampton Superintendent Brian Salzer
  • <br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS<br/>Brian Salzer, the new superintendent of schools at a meeting on his first day.

— City School Superintendent Brian Salzer is resigning effective July 31 to take a new job as high school principal for the JFK International School in Berlin, Germany.

The School Committee will vote on Salzer’s resignation and discuss the search for a replacement when it meets next Thursday. Details about whether there will be an interim replacement and the scope of the search have not yet been worked out.

School employees and School Committee members reacted to the news of Salzer’s resignation Friday with sadness and regret.

“The superintendent is the one who helps shape the vision for the district and Brian did such a great job of getting everyone on board,” said At-Large School Committee Michael Flynn. “I feel like we were just starting to get that momentum and now we’re losing it again.”

Mayor David J. Narkewicz, who chairs the School Committee, said he is disappointed that Salzer will be leaving the city.

“I had hoped he would lead the district over the next several years. But this is an opportunity he obviously feels he needs to take,” Narkewicz said.

“My focus needs to turn to how we find a new leader for the school system,” Narkewicz said.

Salzer, whose experience includes stints as a teacher, high school principal and school business manager, began work as Northampton schools chief in August 2011. He was the School Committee’s unanimous choice from a pool of 23 applicants and four finalists to replace Isabelina Rodriguez, who left the district that year for a job with the Granby public schools.

Salzer, who has been Northampton schools chief for less than two years, informed the School Committee of his plans to leave in a letter dated March 7. In the letter, the 45-year-old administrator said he was resigning with “mixed emotions.”

“I have had the best professional experience of my career working in Northampton,” he wrote. “I greatly appreciate the opportunity you gave me and will work to support the transition to new leadership.”

In an interview at school department headquarters Friday, Salzer — who speaks Spanish and German — said he has “always dreamed of living and working overseas in the international educational world.”

After learning of an opening for a principal at the 1,700-student international school in Berlin last fall and visiting the school during his vacation in December, “things happened quickly,” he said.

Salzer said the School Committee and the district’s administrative leadership team were aware that he was applying for the position overseas. He informed them Thursday of his decision to take the job.

Salzer described that decision as a difficult one.

“This is the greatest professional happiness I’ve had, in Northampton,” he said. “If I could defer this offer for five years I would gladly do so. But these international opportunities are hard to get.”

Asked whether his resignation is related to the challenging budget picture the school department is facing for the coming year, Salzer said, “No, and that was the hardest part of putting this forward. I’m afraid that people will connect the two.”

School leaders have said they may have to cut as many as 30 full-time teaching positions to balance the budget for 2014.

Salzer said he does not expect budget discussions will be affected by his resignation.

“If we were in a situation where we had an override, this might hurt the case,” he said. “But we know what we are getting and we don’t expect that to change.”

Sharon Carlson, a physical education teacher at JFK Middle School and president of the Northampton Association of School Employees, praised Salzer for moving collective bargaining talks in a positive direction.

“We had established a very collaborative relationship and that was feeling really good,” she said.

‘“You don’t know if that will continue” under a new schools chief, she said.

Margaret Riddle, principal of R.K. Finn Ryan Road School — a veteran of six superintendent searches in Northampton — was philosophical about the pending change in leadership.

“It’s inspiring to see someone come into the district and in such a short period of time make such a difference in morale and forward thinking,” she said. “That helps us look to the future.”

School Committee member Stephanie Pick, who was on the search committee when Salzer was hired, said he helped create “a better sense of direction and a more collaborative approach to how we do things in the district. He’s a creative thinker and he enabled other people to think creatively.”

Pick said one thing school leaders learned from the superintendent search two years ago is “to keep searching until you’re comfortable you’ve found the right person.” Salzer was hired in a second search round in the spring of 2011.

Salzer, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from the University of Wisconsin system, began his career teaching English and geography in public schools in that state.

When he was hired as principal of the rural Sauk Prairie High School in 2000, he made headlines as Wisconsin’s first openly gay public school principal.

In Massachusetts, Salzer served as principal of high schools in Newton and Swampscott before becoming business manager for the Marblehead schools in 2011.

Based on his most recent evaluation in Northampton, the School Committee approved a 2 percent salary increase for Salzer retroactive to July 2012, bringing his annual pay to $131,070, according to the school department.

Legacy Comments5

Sadly, this is human nature: we know the weaknesses of the people already involved in our schools, so we tend to hire someone who looks brilliant on paper and exciting during a series of interviews. sigh.

He came, he organized a triatholon, he went. Principalship positions are hard to find overseas? Apparently, Mr. Salzer is as unseasoned an overseas educator as he appears to have been as a superintendent in this country. Achtung, JFK International School in Berlin.

Nothing new for Northampton, they don't pick the people that have strong ties to the community. They will never learn and this will continue to happen because of it. Sad but true.

All the schools in the area should apply that same attitude! They've all been used as steppingstones in recent years, and that's unfortunate for the students and the communities.

Let's hire someone local who is an invested stakeholder in Northampton and cares about our community and our children. Mr. Salzar does not have mixed emotions. He used Northampton as a stepping stone as most of our past superintendants and high school principals/vice principals have.

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