Leeds Elementary principal announces departure

  • Sal Canata, the principal at Leeds Elementary School, holds a bee eraser; he sometimes hands them out to students as an incentive to “bee kind.” He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy at the end of the school year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sal Canata, principal at Leeds Elementary School. He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy at the end of the school year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Sal Canata, principal at Leeds Elementary School, talks with students, from left, Ruby Ferrari and Anna Mansfield. He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy at the end of the school year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Leeds School Principal Sal Canata uses a walkie talkie to alert a coworker as each parent arrives to pick up their child after school, Tuesday, May, 7, 2019 at the school. He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy at the end of the school year. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Leeds School Principal Sal Canata, right, talks to John Calkins while coordinating a line of parents picking up their children after school, Tuesday, May, 7, 2019 at the school. He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy at the end of the school year. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Leeds School Principal Sal Canata gets a hug from Abby Xu while ushering children to a bus after school, Tuesday, at the school. He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy at the end of the school year. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Leeds School Principal Sal Canata ushers children to a bus after school, Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2019 6:12:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — This school year will be Sal Canata’s last as principal of Leeds Elementary School. He announced Tuesday that he is leaving to be principal of Holyoke STEM Academy, a public middle school, starting July 1.

“I weighed the decision. I wavered quite a bit,” Canata told the Gazette. “I came to the conclusion this was the right decision for me at this point in my life.”

Staff members were told Monday, and a letter was sent home to parents on Tuesday, Canata said. He has been working in education for over 25 years, with 14 of those spent in Northampton Public Schools, including JFK Middle School, where he was an assistant principal. He became the principal of Leeds in 2013.

Canata said he will miss the Leeds staff and school community: “The personal connections I’ve made here made my decision so tough.”

But as a longtime resident of Holyoke and self-described “Holyoke guy,” he said he hopes to make an impact there. Many students leave the Holyoke Public Schools district for charter schools or school choice, he said. “If people don’t have a connection to their public school, to their neighborhood, I don’t see a place like Holyoke flourishing like it probably should be,” he said.

Under Canata’s leadership at Leeds, the school doubled student service staff, increased the hours of the school psychologist to a full-time position, established a robotics curriculum, welcomed a preschool and helped develop the gardening program, according to the letter sent home with students. In addition to being a regular presence in the halls and at school community meetings, Canata also has been a familiar face at events promoting school spirit, such as the World Café, the Halloween Parade and Trunk or Treat.

“As a school we focus on relationships and as a result build trust,” Canata wrote.

On Tuesday, staff and parents spoke highly of the principal.

“We all have the utmost admiration and love for him,” said Karen Bryant, a second-grade teacher who has worked at Leeds for 18 years. “There were a lot of tears and sadness when he made his announcement.”

Bryant said there are more than 300 students in the school, and “he knows each one by name. He knows their families.”

Canata encourages and recognizes students’ positive behavior through the school’s “Bee” program, Bryant explained. He is known to hand out bumblebee-shaped erasers to students as an incentive to “bee kind,” “bee respectful,” “bee Leeds.”

“He’s very much a presence in the kids’ lives,” she said.

Mark Peterson, the father of a fifth grader, said Canata “did a lot to establish consistency and morale,” adding that he “had a lot of good dad jokes, which I appreciated a lot more than my kids.”

Peterson also said Canata has been responsive to parental concerns. “My young son has a complicated IEP (individualized education program), and he has done wonders being respectful and balancing the needs of the school system and my son.”

“He has done a fabulous job in leading the school and community,” said Erin Duffy, the parent of a kindergartner at the school, standing by the playground. “We’re sad to see him go.”

For Canata, his proudest accomplishment is creating a strong community at the school, he said, “a place where kids know they are welcome, parents know they are welcome. We have fun, but we have expectations.”

Canata hopes he can replicate some of that school spirit at his next school. “My goal is that I can do the same in Holyoke and create something great and get people excited, not only about STEM Academy but about Holyoke schools in general,” he said.

Northampton Public Schools Superintendent John Provost said the district already has posted the position of principal as part of the job search, and a team of people — including parents, teachers and other staff — will help in the search process. There will be an opportunity for input from parents and guardians at a forum next month. Provost said he hopes to select a replacement by June 14.

Greta Jochem can be  reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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