"Don’t forget the certificates,” says Paula Lavigne.
William Sangster looks to where his secretary points. Two framed documents, mileposts in his 42-year career in education, are on the wall beside a practically empty set of shelves. He removes them and lays them down on his desk; its polished surface reflecting the florescent lights of his office. Like the rest of the office, it has been stripped bare.
Sangster, who for the past three years has served as assistant to Superintendent Peter Horoschak, is packing up. But he isn’t leaving Warwick schools just yet.
Sangster, 64, wants to put in one more year before retirement. And for his swan song, he is going back to where he started in Warwick schools seven years ago – Aldrich Junior High School. And he is going back to his former job as principal.
Sangster’s move all comes about as a rotation of administrative positions.
Dennis Mullen, who left as principal of Pilgrim to head the Warwick team assessing the state’s new teacher evaluation system, is moving into the assistant superintendent slot. Sangster was on his way out until he learned Aldrich Principal John Livsey wanted to pick up where Mullen had left off. It’s a one-year assignment and then Livsey would presumably return to Aldrich.
Sangster wanted to go back to Aldrich. He applied for the post and by a 3-2 vote; the School Committee gave him the job.
“It would really put a star on the top of my career,” said Sangster.
Sangster, who came to Warwick from Ashland, Mass., where he was principal of the junior-senior high school, finds it difficult to leave Warwick schools.
“There’s plenty of room for everybody. It’s easy to be accepted and you never feel like you’re locked in,” he says of the system.
“There’s always movement,” he adds, “if you just wait, you’ll get your chance.”
Sangster really wasn’t looking for the assistant superintendent job.
An avid golfer, Sangster was about to tee-off on the Myrtle Beach course three summers ago when he got the call from Horoschak.
“When you’re asked, you usually don’t say no,” Sangster said.
He moved into the job uncertain of what to expect and, as he confesses, feeling like the “estranged husband.”
His first day was among his worst as an educator. It was when Pilgrim students Bella DiPalma and Elanna Zuller were killed in an automobile accident.
“There isn’t any worse day in this business than losing a child. We all felt it,” he said.
It’s hardly a surprise that Sangster accommodated Horoschak’s request. He’s a former Marine who served two tours in Vietnam and is used to following orders of his superiors.
Sangster’s parents worked in the factories of Leominster and Fitchburg. He was an average student who had hopes of going to college but no means to do so. He joined the Marine Corps in 1966. When he was discharged, his wife encouraged him to pursue his dream and he discovered, as a Vietnam veteran, he was entitled to a semester of college. He said vets were given a free semester “to prove themselves” and if they didn’t, they were dropped from the program.
Sangster attended UMass Amherst and upon graduation started a teaching job on the Cape at the Sandwich school system. He remained there for 23 years before going to Ashland.
Sangster has liked his top administrative job. It has given him the opportunity to see the complete district and to solve problems that haven’t been resolved at the building level. That hasn’t always been easy and his approach has been to get the parties to look at his perspective, although they may not necessarily agree with him
“I say to parents, respect my decision,” he said.
Further, he adds, his aim is to let parents know he “is the solution to the problem, not the problem.”
Sangster is excited for Mullen and says he’s the right person to fill the assistant superintendent’s position. He points to distinctions awarded Mullen, the most recent being selected as the state’s top high school principal.
“He knows everything about secondary education. He’s on top of his game,” said Sangster.
And Sangster is excited about getting back to Aldrich where he looks forward to being a building administrator and working with teachers and getting to know students and their parents.
“I’m still following my dreams and now I get the chance to wake up in one,” he said.
And as for being among the senior principals in the system, an observation some might make, Sangster questions if you were in stormy weather and you were waiting to take off, “Wouldn’t you like to see a captain with gray hair?”