Charlton settles into new role as CHS principal

Charlton settles into new role as CHS principal

New Cumberland High School Principal Donna Charlton says she can’t wait for the bustle of the first day of school at CHS. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault)
Search for two assistant principals underway

CUMBERLAND – Before she’s even had a chance to set up her office, Cumberland High School Principal Donna Charlton’s first order of business is to hire two assistant principals to replace the outgoing administrators.

Interviews to fill the two positions began this week, said Charlton, who took over the high school’s top leadership post from Alan Tenreiro, who left CHS at the end of the school year to become president of Mount St. Charles Academy.

“I’m looking to hire other leaders who are analytical thinkers and who are knowledgeable about curricular best practices,” Charlton told The Valley Breeze. “Ideally, they should have experience as practitioners and be able to think on their feet.”

Also important to Charlton are administrators who will “put the needs of students first.”

The two former assistant principals who accepted new positions elsewhere are Adolfo Costa, the new principal of Lincoln Middle School, and Jessie Butash, who joined Tenreiro’s leadership team at Mount.

Charlton, who has more than 25 years of experience as a classroom teacher and school administrator, said that she would like to hire the two leaders as soon as possible but doesn’t want to rush the process at the expense of quality.

With students and teachers out for the summer, CHS was quiet last Friday morning, as Charlton sat in her new office – which, she pointed out, she still needs to decorate – and spoke of her first few weeks as the high school’s new leader.

Since being unanimously appointed by the Cumberland School Committee on June 15, the former principal of Oakdale Middle School in Rogers, Ark., has been “meeting formally and informally with various school officials and teachers,” she said. “Before the planning can take place, you have to have the conversations.”

Given the timing of her appointment, Charlton has not had the opportunity to talk with students or many of the 130 or so teachers at the school yet.

She did have a “comprehensive” discussion with Tenreiro about her role in the school, and plans to host a few meetings this summer for all teachers to share their thoughts, hopes, and concerns. Any issues that emerge from those conversations will be prioritized, she said.

Asked if she has any new initiatives or policy changes planned for the fall, Charlton said, “It’s still far too soon for that. If I had anything planned already, it would not give me an opportunity to seek feedback or input from the rest of the school community.”

With everyone on vacation right now, she doesn’t “want to make a lot of unilateral decisions just because it’s summer.”

Charlton’s initial opinion is that the school district and high school are “already in good shape,” she said, adding that it’s a strength to have “a superintendent who is extremely tuned in to the direction that the district needs to take.”

“I don’t think it’s a matter of needing someone to come in and fix things or change things,” she said. “That does not mean to say that change won’t occur. Mr. Tenreiro and I are different people. Change is inevitable. Whatever changes do come along, they will be for the better.”

She said that it’s important that under her leadership the school remains a “safe haven” for students.

Before serving for five years in Arkansas, Charlton worked for 11 years as an assistant high school principal in Texas. She moved from Arkansas to Rhode Island in January, a year after her husband, Troy, moved for a job with Woonsocket-based CVS.

As she adjusts to life in the Northeast, she’s beginning to learn the “rhythm” of Cumberland, as she first described it in a Breeze story last month, as well as the values of the community, she said.

But learning that rhythm is an ongoing process.

“That’s not something that anyone picks up within a few days,” she said. “We’re talking comprehensively about an entire community and its high school.”

Charlton holds a bachelor’s degree from Dillard University, a master’s degree from Centenary College of Louisiana, and is expected to receive her PhD in educational leadership from Prairie View A&M University this year.

As for the start of the new school year, Charlton said she’s most looking forward to the “hustle and bustle of the school day.”