EASTHAM — Nauset Regional High School Principal Chris Ellsasser announced last week that he was resigning as of the end of the school year. His replacement will be chosen by a newly hired district superintendent — who will be selected in the next several weeks.
Ellsasser wrote in an email to parents and students on Wednesday, Dec. 22: “I will not be returning next fall to serve as the principal of our high school…. I want to thank each of you for playing your part in immersing our kids in such a caring and dynamic community where striving to be your best each day is the norm.”
He told teachers the same day during a staff meeting preceding the Christmas break. He said he received a standing ovation and many hugs afterwards.
But so far, Ellsasser, 56, is the only one who is talking publicly about why he is giving up the job of principal of the largest school on the Outer Cape after four years.
He told the Independent on Dec. 23 that the district administration’s decision to give him a one-year rather than the standard three-year contract last spring prompted him to look for a new school.
“As a school administrator, or any leader, one of the things you are looking for is a multi-year contract,” he said. “That is a show of confidence in and support for the work you are doing.”
Ellsasser was hired in May 2018 by now-retired Supt. Tom Conrad. At that time, he signed a three-year contract. But when it was time to renew the agreement, Conrad offered him only a one-year contract.
Conrad then retired in June after serving for 21 years as principal of the high school and six years as superintendent. This week, Conrad declined to comment on his reasons for a move that he surely knew would force Ellsasser’s hand.
The current interim Nauset school superintendent, Brooke Clenchy, who started in July, said she could not discuss “personnel specifics” with a reporter.
Ellsasser, a 1982 graduate of Nauset High, made it clear that leaving was not what he wanted.
“There is no one who thinks I didn’t love my job at the high school,” Ellsasser said. “It is very sad to me.”
The 10-member Nauset Regional School Committee does not hire or supervise principals, said chair Chris Easley of Wellfleet. Clenchy said, “School committee members are an excellent source of information for a superintendent, and they often provide helpful guidance, suggestions, and support. They do not hire or fire general school district employees.”
Nonetheless, Easley said he does know enough to say that “Chris was treated fairly.”
Easley added, “All anyone wants to do is the best for the school.”
Amy Roberts, head of the Nauset Educators Association — the local teachers’ union — would not comment.
Clenchy, who began the one-year interim superintendent job on July 1 at a salary of $190,000, now has a magnifying glass on her as a candidate for the permanent job of superintendent.
“I have every interest in a full-time position,” she told the Independent in May, a month after the search committee selected her from a pool of 19 candidates. The other finalists were Jane Daly, assistant superintendent of the Chariho Regional Schools in Rhode Island, and Frank Tiano, superintendent of the Uxbridge Public Schools.
The search committee for the permanent position has received 17 applications, Easley said. They are expected to announce finalists on Jan. 8, Clenchy said.
Conrad was the last of the four-town Nauset school district’s long-term leaders.
Keith Kenyon is the first-year principal at the middle school, and Patrick Clark is the new assistant principal at the high school. The high school is about to become a massive construction site, with a $131.8-million renovation beginning next year.
“You hate to have so many moving parts,” said Easley.
Ellsasser grew up in Eastham. Other than being a Nauset graduate himself, he was an unusual choice as principal of a public school. After graduating from Brandeis, he moved to California in the late 1980s when his wife, an attorney, got a job offer there. He worked at Pepperdine University in Malibu as a writing tutor and, after getting a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College in 2000, he became an associate professor of education at Pepperdine for seven years. He also took English teaching positions in California schools and coached soccer.
Ellsasser said he and his wife are committed to social justice. He encouraged his Pepperdine students to become inner-city educators in Compton, where his wife was a public defender.
After 25 years in California, they moved back to Massachusetts to help care for his wife’s father. He spent six years as director of studies at Lawrence Academy, a private school in Groton. In 2015, he joined the faculty of the progressive Cambridge School of Weston, where he was academic dean.
Ellsasser said he was inspired by the late educator Ted Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, and one of the founders of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens. Ellsasser said he has read the book The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract, written by Sizer and his wife, Nancy, numerous times. “It is about how kids learn by who their teachers are,” Ellsasser said.
He said Nauset staff have modeled “collaboration, growth, and innovation, and none of that has subsided, even during this crazy time.”
Ellsasser said has been looking at leadership positions in public and private schools, as well as collegiate jobs.