Gay Principals to Lead Two Mass. High Schools

Kristin Howley READ TIME: 4 MIN.

NEWTON, Mass. -- Newton, home to out Congressman Barney Frank, has two new gay power players to call its own.

Jennifer Price and Brian Salzer recently were named principals of Newton North High School and Newton South High School, respectively. The announcement comes amidst a nationwide search conducted by the Newton school district, superintendent, and a Selection Advisory Committee.

This decision was not made over night. Newton North?s opening comes as seven-year veteran principal Jennifer Huntington retires. Newton South began its search last year, ultimately naming long-time Newton North English teacher Dr. Brenda Keegan as interim principal.

Superintendent Jeffrey Young made the decision to suspend the search when only two viable candidates were presented. This year, a field of more than 30 candidates applied for the two open positions. Price and Salzer were finalists at both schools.

Price comes to Newton North as an experienced educator, but an inexperienced principal. The 34-year-old is a third-year doctoral student at Harvard, where she is enrolled in the Urban Superintendent Program in the Graduate School of Education. Prior to her appointment as principal, Price taught history at Maynard High School and served as a housemaster at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.

In a letter to the Oak Hill Middle School Parent Teacher Organization, Superintendent Young described Price as having, ?the right mix of energy and experience to be a terrific principal at North.?

Newton South will welcome Brian Salzer as its new principal. Salzer is a true product of the nationwide search, coming to Newton via Sauk Prairie High School in a suburb of Madison, Wisc. Salzer was a coach and English teacher prior to his most recent tenure--six years as principal at Sauk Prairie. Young told the Oak Hill PTO that Salzer ?is familiar with South's work on smaller learning communities and is eager to collaborate with us to advance this initiative.?

He went on to say ?members of the South community responded enthusiastically to Brian, describing him as ?an excellent listener,? ?intellectual, with a love of teaching and learning,? ?relaxed and confident,? and ?a remarkable person?.?

?We had a very strong field of finalists? Superintendent Jeff Young told the Newton TAB. ?I believe Brian and Jennifer are going to be remarkable long-term leaders for Newton.? This is good news for Price, whose doctoral thesis focuses on the relationship between a principal's duration at a school directly compared to their ability to positively affect change in the school.

In a prior statement, Price said that she hopes to remain at Newton North for some time. While she would not give an exact estimate, she did not rule out the possibility of a decade, and went on to say that the milestones of her tenure would come over years, not in her first several months on the job. Salzer on the other hand, told the TAB, "I hope that I'm able to have an impact right away.?

Whether or not Price and Salzer have an immediate impact, they will have help. Keegan, whom Salzer is replacing, recently was named Newton?s assistant superintendent. She will replace 34-year veteran of the Newton schools Judy Malone-Neville, who is retiring at the end of this year. Keegan has experienced life in both Newton high schools, both as long-time English teacher at North and most recently as interim principal at South.

The reaction to the announcement has, so far, been mixed. Concerns have been raised over Price?s inexperience and young age, and over Salzer?s lack of experience in a school as large as South.

Longtime antigay activist and Newton parent Brian Camenker believes the other finalists, Sean Feeney and Thomas Gwin, were more qualified for the positions. He believes Price and Salzer were given the job because ?that?s what Newton?s school system decided to do; to select the queer candidate.? When asked about Anthony Parker, a long-time teacher at South, and a faculty favorite for interim principal, Camenker replied, ?He?s a normal, down-to-earth, intelligent guy. He would have been an obvious choice.? Camenker questions the entire hiring process, attributing the new principals to the surging gay movement in the town.

Other reaction has been more favorable. Senior and Newton South Gay-Straight Alliance Co-Chair Michelle Kellaway said the ?selection of an openly gay principal is a significant step in the right direction. We talk a lot about increasing tolerance, awareness, and diversity, however, there still remains a disconnect between our words and our actions.? Former co-worker and Lincoln-Sudbury teacher Sarah Greeley said Price is ?an extremely bright and competitive person.? She and many others at LS ?are confident that [Price] is going to excel at her new placement.?

Controversy is nothing new in Massachusetts schools. Public schools statewide are embroiled in a sex education debate. Parents are concerned about progressive lesson plans which include pictures and descriptions of alternative lifestyle families. David Parker of Lexington was arrested last spring after objecting to a so-called gay curriculum in his son?s kindergarten class.

Last May, parents were outraged when the sexually explicit ?'Little Black Book," produced by the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, was accidentally distributed at Brookline High School.

Newton North has also had its problems in the past. ToBeGLAD (Transgender Bisexual Gay & Lesbian) Day faced heavy protest by parents who felt they were not sufficiently warned about the day and its agenda.

The Parents? Rights Coalition and the Article 8 Alliance are currently leading the charge in Massachusetts to make sex education, as well as any assemblies, speeches, workshops, gay clubs, after-school sessions, GLBT awareness units, and teachable moments in other academic classes elective opt-ins rather than mandatory opt-outs they are today.

With debates raging all around them, will Price and Salzer be able to focus on the tasks they have at hand? Both say it?s a non-issue, and both are eager to get to work. Salzer told Daniel Black, ?My work in the schools is about being a good educational leader. I don't advocate or support one thing over another. Everyone gets equal support from me." Only time will tell if Salzer and Price get that equal support in return.

by Kristin Howley

Freelance writer Kristin Howley lives in Medford, Mass. and is an avid rugby player and fan. He e-mail address is [email protected].

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