NHS chooses finalist for principal

  • Northampton High School in an undated file photo. JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 11/23/2022 7:38:24 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After months of searching, the quest for a new principal for Northampton High School may finally be coming to an end. 

In a letter to the community from the Northampton School Committee and interim Superintendent Jannell Pearson-Campbell, the school announced it had selected William Wehrli as a finalist candidate for the position of principal. Wehrli is scheduled to visit the school next week, as well as take part in a public forum to take questions from the community. 

“Northampton has such a strong commitment to education, and to progressive education and values,” Wehrli said by phone this week. “That feels like a good fit for me.”

A veteran educator with over 30 years of experience, Wehrli also has deep ties to the Pioneer Valley area. He served as principal of Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield from 2007 to 2015, and before that worked in various administrative roles at Amherst Regional High School from 1997 to 2007.

His current role is as the associate director for accreditation and school improvement at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in Burlington. 

The School Committee has not made an official decision on hiring Wehrli, who remains only a candidate, but Pearson-Campbell said she expected to announce the new principal sometime in the first week of December. 

NHS has been without a permanent principal since the March departure of Lori Vaillancourt, who resigned amid controversy following internal school emails obtained via public records requests in which she referred to students as “asshats,” and which called into question her commitment to student equity. Students at the school staged a walkout and protest once the comments were brought to light. 

Wehrli was selected out of 14 candidates who applied to the position, according to the superintendent’s office. At NEASC, he is a co-facilitator of the Equity Working Group, working with member public schools to ensure their standards and materials aligned with their stated commitments to diversity and equity. 

“He understands equity,” said Pearson-Campbell. “Our kids have really voiced what they’re looking for — they’re looking for a leader to guide them through their high school process.”

Wehrli will visit the high school Wednesday, meeting with the administration and student organizations in the morning before having a faculty and staff forum at 3:40 p.m., and attending a public community forum at 5 p.m. at the high school auditorium. 

“The first step is to get to know the community and learn what the school community sees as needing attention,” Werhli said. “I think the first kind of parallel tracks for me would be first to see what needs attention immediately that we can work on together, and then over a longer period of time, get to know the school community and see what is a more ambitious longer-term agenda.” 

Wehrli holds a bachelor of arts degree in American studies from Wesleyan University, a secondary teaching license from California State University, and a master’s in education from Harvard University. He also completed coursework in K-12 administration, leadership and curriculum from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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