City to replace 2 principals at underperforming schools

By James Vaznis
Globe Staff / December 7, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Boston public schools will appoint new principals at two underperforming schools, less than six months after their current principals began their assignments.

The abrupt departure of the principals at the Blackstone Elementary School in the South End and the Harbor Middle Pilot School in Dorchester could not come at a worse time. Both schools are in the first year of a three-year effort to turn around long-languishing academic performance.

The circumstances surrounding the departures are starkly different.

Stephen Zrike, the Blackstone principal, is heading to Chicago public schools, where he will serve as “chief area officer,’’ supervising 25 schools and 19,000 students. His last day working in Boston will be Dec. 23.

Reached last night, Zrike said he was not comfortable commenting until the Blackstone parents and community partners are notified.

He said he plans to send letters to parents today informing them of his departure.

The reasons behind Robert Martin’s exit at the Harbor are less clear, but his tenure has been notably rocky. The school district placed him on administrative leave on Oct. 20, and he returned to the school around Nov. 8, said Matthew Wilder, a school department spokesman.

Martin went on leave again on Nov. 24, Wilder said, and he is no longer principal.

Wilder said he was “not at liberty to discuss this personnel matter’’ any further.

Academic superintendent Albert Taylor has been asked to lead the Harbor school in the interim. A temporary replacement has not yet been named for the Blackstone.

Martin and Zrike were among five new principals Superintendent Carol R. Johnson installed at underperforming schools in hopes of sparking a turnaround. The schools are among 12 that the state declared underperforming in March under a new state law.

At the time, Johnson said she was impressed with Zrike’s leadership at two previous Boston schools while she noted Martin’s success at the O’Donnell Elementary School in East Boston, which has had among the highest MCAS improvement rates in the state.

From the start, both men sparked controversy when they asked staff to reapply for their jobs — an action taken at seven underperforming schools — causing the departure of dozens of staff members.

By September, though, a new energy was evident at Blackstone.

About 80 percent of the teachers were new and many had elected to work at the school because they enjoyed working with Zrike in previous assignments.

In an interview yesterday, Johnson said she was disappointed to lose Zrike.

“We had hoped we could talk him into staying in Boston,’’ Johnson said. “It’s truly sad for us.’’

James Vaznis can be reached at