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Celli and Galinski move up the ladder

As challenges to education continue to grow, 60 will take on new superintendent jobs in economically strapped school districts

Lynne Celli, new superintendent of Swampscott schools. Lynne Celli, new superintendent of Swampscott schools. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
By Steven Rosenberg
Globe Staff / April 15, 2010

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Lynne Celli and Marie Galinski come from working-class cities. They attended — and later taught — at Catholic day schools, and said the values instilled by those they encountered, such as being respectful and honest, helped develop their approach to education.

Now, after climbing the ladder by teaching, running schools, and serving as assistant superintendents, they are preparing to take charge of public school systems during challenging financial times. In July, Galinski will become the superintendent in Beverly, and Celli will take over as head of the Swampscott school system.

The two are part of the group of 60 new superintendents who will start jobs this summer in a state with an annual turnover rate of almost 25 percent since 2003. Celli and Galinski are assuming positions in communities where academic expectations continue to grow as districts work with less funding. With long work weeks, shrinking budgets, and a mandate to improve MCAS and SAT scores, the tenure at the position tends to be short, lasting an average of 5.5 years, according to Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Galinski, 61, was tapped by outgoing Superintendent James Hayes six years ago to become Beverly’s assistant superintendent. A native of Lynn, where she attended St. Mary’s, she received a bachelor’s degree from Merrimack College, a master’s degree at Salem State College, and a doctorate in administration and supervision from Northeastern University in 1988. She has taught at Our Lady of the Assumption in Lynnfield, served as principal at two Worcester public schools, and at Saint Augustine School in Andover.

Over the last decade, the economic downturn has hit Beverly hard, forcing the district to cut dozens of teaching positions and close middle and elementary schools. As she prepares to lead the school system, Galinski sees the budget as her biggest challenge. Currently she’s working with Hayes to try to fill a $1.2 million shortfall caused by rising health insurance premiums, special education costs, and a 4 percent reduction in state aid.

In recent weeks, the Beverly School Committee turned down a proposal from Hayes to close another elementary school — a move that would have balanced the budget.

Galinski said more than 20 teaching positions already have been cut for next year, and an equal number could be lost to balance the budget. “Everything’s on the table at this point,’’ said Galinski. “The budget is always going to be a challenge. As long as the state’s in financial crisis, we’re going to be in financial crisis.’’

Galinski said her main goals next year will be to develop a long-term strategic plan that would include attainable academic and curriculum goals, and a transition plan to move students, teachers, and administrators into the new $85 million Beverly High School when it opens in November.

Galinski, who has a two-year contract with a salary of $145,000, also is overseeing the district’s one-to-one laptop initiative planned next year, which calls for every high school student to lease or own a computer.

“They’ll be able to access information that they can’t in a normal classroom,’’ said Galinski, adding the students will use their laptops to view everything from podcasts to technological-based projects in science and math.

Hayes and School Committee chairwoman Annmarie Cesa said Galinski’s six years in Beverly has prepared her to be a budget hawk and a master of curriculum.

“She’s level-headed and knows what works and what doesn’t,’’ said Cesa. “I think everybody’s biggest challenge for the next few years is going to be the budget and if we hired someone outside of the district, there would have been a huge learning curve.’’

Hayes called Galinski “extremely competent and collaborative,’’ and predicted a smooth transition when he retires in June.

In Swampscott, Celli will become the fifth superintendent to lead the school district in six years, following Brian Coughlin, interim superintendent Carol Sager, Matthew Malone, and interim superintendent Maureen Bingham.

Joe Crimmins, Swampscott School Committee chairman, said Celli was chosen because of her enthusiasm for learning, and her advocacy for professional development and performance-based compensation for teachers.

He also lauded her for her collaborative decision-making style. “She’s somebody who can come in and really build consensus and not be perceived as imposing her rule from a top-down, take-it-or-leave-it attitude,’’ he said.

Celli, 50, is a lifelong resident of Leominster. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Clark University, she taught at her childhood Catholic school, Julie Country Day School, before becoming principal at St. Mel’s Day School in Gloucester. She has taught at Lasell College and Anna Maria College, served as the director of curriculum in Gardner, assistant superintendent in Lexington, and is currently the assistant superintendent/principal at Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford.

She earned her master’s degree and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Boston College in 1991.

“The bottom line for me is children first, always. It means that we do the best we can, most effectively and efficiently for every student no matter what their needs are,’’ said Celli.

Like Beverly, Swampscott is facing a budget shortfall — more than $400,000 — but Crimmins said he hopes to balance the budget without cutting teacher positions.

Celli, who has not yet agreed to contract terms, said she planned to spend much of her first year holding educational forums to identify the priorities in the community. “I don’t plan on coming in and making sweeping changes. I plan to do a lot of listening and learn what’s working, what’s not, what should be continued and what should be started new,’’ she said.

She believes using educational research and data will help drive academic achievement.

She plans to start her days in different classrooms, and hopes to teach as well as administrate. Last week, she left her principal’s office at Nashoba to substitute in a gym class. “I taught the class in a dress,’’ she said.

Her former boss, Lexington Superintendent Paul Ash, said her high energy level serves students, teachers, and administrators. “She’s a fabulous educator,’’ said Ash. “She has a very deep knowledge of curriculum and instruction and knows how to improve learning in the classroom.’’

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