Jackson concedes poor timing in decision to retire from ARHS

  • Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson speaks as Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk listens during a meeting in January 2014. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson, second from left, fields a question during a meeting at Amherst Regional Middle School in January 2014. Also pictured are Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone, Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk, and Faye Brady, director of student services and special education for the district. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2018 12:30:24 AM

AMHERST — Outgoing Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson acknowledged Tuesday his decision to retire, announced last week, was not well timed.

“Trying to do another year wasn’t a smart thing,” he said. “This was a decision too long postponed. I wish I had done it at a more appropriate time, which would have been at the end of the year in June.”

“I didn’t have great timing on this one,” he added.

Parents and staff were notified of the news on Thursday afternoon, according to Superintendent Michael Morris. Some said they were surprised. Last Thursday was Jackson’s last day, as he is using two weeks of accrued vacation time until his official retirement date of Nov. 1.

Though it is a seemingly abrupt change for the school, Jackson said in his announcement that because of new initiatives the school is undertaking, it made sense to step aside for new leadership.

He said, “I’ve done it (worked in public education) for 40 years. I’ve been a school principal for 26. The cumulative effect of that … You know when it’s time.”

Jackson, 63, had been ARHS principal since fall of 2004.

“I was ready to be done being a high school principal but we’ll see how the rest of it goes,” Jackson said, adding that he doesn’t have any plans for retirement yet.

When asked if the retirement of a school administrator in the middle of the year is rare, Morris replied, “I would say it’s not always the case but certainly it’s sometimes the case … It happens.”

The strategic plan cited in Jackson’s email announcement is an initiative the Amherst-Pelham Regional district is undertaking to formulate a three-to-five-year plan, Morris said. It is a voluntary initiative and the district will use a state outline in its plan.

Next week is the kickoff meeting for a planning team that includes parents, guardians and staff, according to Morris.

As for the other district initiatives that he referred to in his announcement, Jackson said the budget for the 2019-2020 school year will be a challenge, as he expects it to include cuts.

When he arrived in Amherst in 2004, Jackson replaced two co-interim principals, after previously serving as principal at Morristown High School in New Jersey.

Jackson, who has an undergraduate degree from Colgate University and a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania, served as a middle school principal in Plainfield and Elizabeth, New Jersey, for a total of 10 years. He had also been a social studies teacher for six years.

Miki Gromacki, who had been the assistant principal of ARHS for a decade, started serving as interim principal on Friday. The school district will search for Jackson’s permanent replacement in 2019 and plan for the new principal to start on July 1.

Gromacki announced Tuesday that Mary Custard, the dean of students, will now be the interim assistant principal. Custard has worked in the district for 22 years and is a co-adviser for the Minority Student Achievement Network and and People of Color United (POCU) group.

Leadership praised

​​​​​Colleagues, parents and teachers spoke highly of Jackson, saying he was highly committed to his job and that he was able to have Amherst Regional High School students engage in conversations about race and racism, gender identity, and class.

That was seen first-hand by English teacher Sara Barber-Just. When Barber-Just, other faculty and parents and students learned of Jackson’s immediate retirement from the school Thursday, she sent him an email, which she said praised him for “all of the things I am deeply grateful for over the last 15 years.”

These included giving her assistance in creating several gender-neutral bathrooms at the school and “your ability to keep our school running like a well-oiled machine.”

Crocker Farm Principal Derek Shea commented and highlighted Jackon’s dedication. “This is a guy that in my opinion kept the high school together for many years,” he said. The two worked together when Shea was a guidance counselor at ARHS.

“I would get emails (from him) at 4:52 a.m., ridiculous hours,” Shea recalled of his time working with Jackson. “The principal of the high school is a massive, all-consuming job. He made the time to do it at the highest level.”

Becky Demling said her three children at the high school have always felt valued there, an atmosphere Jackson helped create.

“They feel that they were more than just students in his school,” Demling said. “He valued students’ perspective and their initiatives. And would incorporate their thoughts and interests into the school.”

Gromacki, now interim principal, commented: “I was surprised by his retirement, but I also know Mark typically started his day in the office at 4:30 a.m. and was usually the last to leave the school. He was truly committed to his role, and I am grateful that he did that for so many years.”

Similarly, former Amherst School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Appy praised Jackson’s leadership.

“Mark Jackson has been an exemplary educational leader in Amherst for many years,” Appy said. “We owe him a great debt of gratitude and he will be missed.”

Jackson in turn spoke highly of ARHS faculty and staff.

“I’ve been principal of four schools,” he said, “And by far in a way this is the faculty that is skilled and committed in ways that are far exceed any faculty that I’ve worked with. The community should be rightly proud of the group of adults that they entrust their kids to.”

With reporting from Scott Merzbach

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com


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