Sweetman departs, leadership model to change

By Citizen Chronicle Writers
editor@TheCitizenChronicle.com

SOUTHBRIDGE — As the school year rapidly draws to a close, so too is Rebecca Sweetman’s time at the helm of the middle school.

Jeffrey A. Villar, the state-appointed receiver and superintendent for the Southbridge Public Schools notified Southbridge Middle School staff via email on Tuesday, June 12 that Sweetman “has announced she will be stepping down.” No date of departure was given for Sweetman’s final day on the job. She is the second principal to resign from their post at the middle-high school complex on Torrey Road after Andrae Townsel tendered his resignation in February, formally leaving Southbridge High School in March.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the students and families of Southbridge and to work beside such a caring and dedicated staff for the last 11 years. I have spent my entire educational career growing and learning here and for that I owe Southbridge a great deal,” Sweetman told The Citizen Chronicle on Tuesday evening. “The 11 years have not been without their challenges but I would not trade a moment of the time I have spent here. Our students have made an impact on me that will last a lifetime and my hope for each one of them is that they know how much they are believed in, that they come to realize their full potential, and that they never stop learning.”

Sweetman, who started her career as an English Language Arts teacher in Southbridge in 2007, rose through the administrative ranks, becoming academic dean in 2013, associate middle school principal in 2015, and middle school principal in 2016. She noted that her career path will now take her to western Massachusetts, but Southbridge will remain a piece of her.

“The community is a passionate one filled with pride and resilience,” she said. “Southbridge will always hold a special place in my heart. I will continue to root for the Southbridge community as I pursue opportunities closer to my family and loved ones in western Massachusetts.”

In Tuesday afternoon’s email to middle school staff, Villar explained that Sweetman’s job is not an easy one.

“Leadership change at any school is challenging, but it is especially the case for Southbridge Middle High School due to the historical instability of both school and district leadership,” he said. “Stabilizing district and school leadership is a critical first step towards our overall improvement.”

Villar told staff “the expectation of a secondary school principal is not realistic,” specifically citing increasing demands and the “complexity of turning a school around.” With changes at the helm of both the middle and high school, coupled with his own examination of “school leadership teams in successful schools,” Villar said he has “determined that we need to make a change in the model employed at Southbridge Middle High School.”

That new model, Villar explained, will “restructure the campus leadership team into a collaborative triad.” The triad will include a principal serving as each school’s “instructional leader responsible for teaching, learning, climate and culture,” and a campus-wide Director of Operations to be “accountable for managing the business and operations of the combined schools.” Villar added that the triad is expected to “result in both a more effective management of the school, and improved focus on student learning and school culture.”

While at the polls campaigning for a seat on the Town Council, School Committee member Scott Lazo expressed his frustration with the continued turnover at the district’s secondary level.

“The revolving door continues at Southbridge Middle-High School. I hope to God that they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past to go to one administrator — it will be a failed building, if so,” Lazo affirmed. “It’s time to look for building managers with experience for the middle school and the high school that want to be in Southbridge.”

The process of reconstructing the middle-high school leadership team is ongoing with the aid of Talent Development Secondary (TDS) of John Hopkins University in Baltimore. On its website, TDS states its “mission is to provide evidence-based models, tools and services to the most challenged secondary schools serving the most vulnerable students in the country.”

Villar said the restructuring “is just a first step in a plan to improve outcomes at the school,” and that TDS will work with the to be formed leadership triad in the fall “to engage the middle and high school faculty in conversations about redesigning the school to align it with the expectations of the 21st century.” While those conversations are expected to take place in the fall, Villar said he plans to have “a new campus leadership team in place” by “the end of summer vacation.”

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