Principal Position Added at Pierson Middle School

Empty seats in a classroom at Pierson Middle-High School. Christine Sampson photo

Change is on the horizon for Pierson Middle School, which will have its own dedicated principal come September.

That principal will be able to oversee the creation of what Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves has described as “an authentic middle school wing.” The district anticipates the middle school will have several new classrooms and an outdoor learning space freed up by the upcoming relocation of the prekindergarten classes and playground, superintendent’s office and business office to the former Stella Maris Regional School, which is slated to open during the middle of the 2018-19 school year.

“You really need some thoughtful leadership,” Ms. Graves said during Monday’s school board meeting. “It’s a principal’s role to say, ‘How is it going to look?’ They have ownership over that. … That person will have such a unique knowledge about the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.”

Newly elected school board president January Kerr, who professed to being “probably one of the only people who voted for Stella Maris being a middle school,” said she thought middle school students tended to feel left out.

“I think there is an importance in the students understanding the symbolism — ‘they’re giving us our own principal,’” Ms. Kerr said. “I think the students will see that and the culture will immediately start to feel like a real middle school, rather than just waiting to go up to high school.”

The Sag Harbor School Board voted 5-2 on Monday to create the middle school principal position, which will replace the middle school assistant principal position at Pierson Middle-High School. Board members Susan Lamontagne and Chris Tice voted against the measure, saying they had concerns that hadn’t been addressed and wanted further discussion. Changing the roles was briefly brought up during school budget season in the spring, but was not discussed in detail until the June 4 school board meeting, at which point it was tabled for future discussion. The matter appeared on the July 9 board agenda as a resolution up for a vote.

“I was surprised that it was already on the docket because I think there are some things that aren’t resolved here,” Ms. Lamontagne said. “With the new model you are reducing the number of people who can help oversee the middle school. That is a big concern to me. That is the toughest time of the kids’ lives and there are all kinds of challenges there.”

The current leadership structure has Jeff Nichols in place as Pierson principal, Michael Guinan as the high school assistant principal and Brittany Carriero as the middle school assistant principal.

“I’m trying to understand what it is that they can’t do now,” Ms. Tice said, referring to a list of “benefits and concerns” that was discussed on June 4, which is posted on the school district’s website. “The list is here, but almost everything under ‘benefits’ is a responsibility now. What cannot be accomplished with the team we have?”

Ms. Lamontagne suggested moving the office of the middle school assistant principal to the anticipated new middle school wing “without changing the structure” of the administration. She also suggested setting up a middle school principal position would increase costs for the district.

“I think that where this came from was about keeping a certain person who we all would like to keep and think is spectacular,” said Ms. Lamontagne, who has had two children attend the middle school. “I would appreciate a little more time to really vet this.”

Board vice president Diana Kolhoff, who was the board president up until June 30, said she had placed the matter on the agenda because it was timely.

“If this is the direction we are going to go, we need to move sooner rather than later,” she said. “I feel very strongly we should not kick that can down the road, and to do that we need to vote.”

Ms. Graves said the district had received word from its attorney that it could post the middle school job listing for internal candidates only. She said she remembered a time earlier in her career that when she held an assistant principal position in an upstate district, she deferred decisions to her principal “all the time.”

“The moment I became principal, it was like rocket fuel,” Ms. Graves recalled. “It felt good. I still collaborated with my fellow principals. We worked together as a team, but having my own building, it felt really good.”