Officials react to departure of latest high school principal

Townsel to leave SHS, return to Michigan

By Helen Boyle, Amy Fawe and Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writers

SOUTHBRIDGE — The leadership of the high school is in flux once again.

Dr. Andrae Townsel, the second-year principal of Southbridge High School, announced via e-mail last night that he is leaving his post in order to accept the title of Assistant Superintendent for Culture, Climate, and Social Emotional Learning of the Wayne-Westland Community Schools in Westland, Mich. Officials there voted last night to offer the position to Townsel, a native of Detroit. The city of Westland is roughly 16 miles west of Detroit and, as of the 2010 U.S. Census, boasted a population of more than 84,000 people.

Southbridge Public Schools Receiver/Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey A. Villar said this morning he learned of Townel’s decision yesterday.

“Dr. Townsel explained he was leaving to make sure his children were closer to his family,” Villar said. “As a parent I completely understood. As the newly appointed leader of the school system, I immediately realized that his departure represented a new challenge among many.”

Southbridge School Committee member Jacquelyn Ryan confirmed she first learned of Townsel’s departure around 8:30 p.m. on Monday, via an e-mail from Villar. She expressed disappointment in losing Townsel’s leadership.

“I was saddened to see he was leaving because I felt he has been one of the best supports this district has gotten since the State takeover, in particular his focus on restorative justice instead of traditional discipline is extremely important and I believe is key for our students going forward,” Ryan said.

In his e-mail announcement to staff, sent around 9:00 p.m. on Monday, Townsel said he had “been privileged to work alongside some great educators to build a stronger school climate, foster community engagement, and improve student learning.”

Villar said Townsel’s last day has not yet been determined, though the superintendent will be working to “identify an interim leader for the school” before a formal search process for the next principal begins. Townsel was hired to lead Southbridge High School in May 2016, having previously served as Vice Principal of Culture and Instruction at Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. for two years. Townsel is the seventh principal at the high school since 2010, while Villar is the ninth superintendent in that same period of time.

Regardless of who is at the helm of the high school, Villar said the turnaround effort will continue.

“Despite difficult circumstances, we must remain focused on the important work of supporting a positive learning environment where children enjoy learning and teachers enjoy teaching,” Villar said. “We must continue to build on the positive accomplishments that Dr. Townsel successfully led.

Ryan agreed.

“We must look for a principal now who will seek that same deep connection Dr. Townsel had with his student population and will work on continuing to implement the key restorative justice methods that have been improving the social and learning climate of our system,” she asserted.

Townsel’s e-mail announcement expressed a fondness for Southbridge, but stressed familial commitments and desires trump his commitment to the turnaround process here.

“I am very sad to leave here. I really fell in love with this town. However, my children do not have the opportunity to spend much time with their grandparents and cousins outside of annual holidays,” Townsel explained in his e-mail announcement. “I now have an opportunity to focus on my family, which is important. Life is short and time is precious.”

Ryan and Villar offered mutual desire to see the departing principal do well in his new position.

“I wish Dr. Townsel great success in his promotion and I understand why he is leaving — family is extremely important,” Ryan said.

Added Villar: “I wish Dr. Townsel and his family tremendous success and happiness.”

The superintendent echoed those thoughts in an e-mail to “Members of the Southbridge High School Community,” in which the superintendent credited Townsel with “doing great work aimed at building a stronger school climate, fostering student engagement, and improving student learning.”

Multiple attempts to obtain comment from other members of the School Committee were on unsuccessful prior to publication on Monday. School Committee member Amelia Peloquin declined to comment. Additional comments from school officials are anticipated when the School Committee holds a regularly scheduled meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday in Council Chambers at Southbridge Town Hall.


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