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Strafford’s Newton School Principal Resigns

Strafford — The Newton School is searching for a new principal after the abrupt resignation of Judy Ross, who left Friday after four months on the job.

Ross announced her departure to parents on Thursday in an email, and then to the wider community Friday in a post on Strafford’s listserv.

She declined to comment when contacted at the school Friday, and her message to parents and wider community gave only vague reasons for her departure.

“Due to personal and family demands I am no longer able to perform the duties of the job of Principal at the Newton School,” she said in the town listerv post. “At last Tuesday evening’s meeting, the Strafford Board of Directors accepted my resignation, effective this Friday, December 14, 2012.”

Ross left just one week before the K-8 school lets out for the winter break. Her replacement will be Shaun Pickett, who retired in June after spending 26 years as principal of South Royalton School. Pickett will see The Newton School through to the break, and then someone will be chosen to carry it through the remainder of the year, said David Bickford, superintendent of the Orange Windsor Supervisory Union. The Newton School has 130 students.

“Right now, I’m looking between now and vacation that begins next Friday,” Bickford said Friday. “After that, we’re looking for someone to serve as principal for the remainder of the school year and during that time we will decide on how to do a search” for a permanent replacement.

Bickford said he was surprised to receive Ross’ resignation on Tuesday. He presented it to the school board in executive session, which Ross did not attend, and the letter they received offered little explanation for her resignation beyond what was said in the messages to parents and Strafford residents.

“She said she’s resigning and that she’s referred the matter to her attorney,” Bickford said. “That’s basically it.”

Bickford said the terms of her resignation are being worked out, though he declined to go into specifics because it was a personnel matter. Ross’ annual salary was $80,000, he said.

The school district and supervisory union left it to Ross to announce her resignation, and besides the email to parents and listerv post, there has been no additional information. There was nothing about it posted on the school’s website Friday nor that of the supervisory union.

Strafford school board member Sarah Root said the news came as a surprise to nearly everyone and that she had no indication that Ross was about to resign.

“I think people were surprised,” she said. “I was surprised.”

Strafford parent Victoria Lloyd, a town selectwoman whose son attends second grade at The Newton School, said she had a positive opinion of Ross and how she’d performed in her short time as principal. Ross was dedicated to her work and seemed to care for the students, Lloyd said.

In Ross’ listerv post, she reflected on her time in Strafford fondly, saying the town “is blessed to have incredibly supportive families and invested community members who understand the value of a student-centered school.”

Ross also praised the children and said she would miss her “many new Strafford friends.”

Nevertheless, Ross’ sudden resignation raised some concerns about stability in the school’s top job. The Newton School has not had a long-term principal in some time. Paul Lowe held the job for three years until he died unexpectedly in June 2009. Lowe’s replacement, Jonathan Freeman, spent three years as principal until Ross was hired to replace him this summer.

“My concern is not only as a parent, but for continuity in the community and for our children,” Lloyd said.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at cfleisher@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.