Just two months after Steve Murray was appointed Andover High School's permanent principal, he is leaving to return to his hometown as principal of Chelmsford High School -- a decision that has left Andover's top school official "stunned."

In an announcement to the school community Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Marinel McGrath said she was "disappointed and stunned" to learn when she returned from April school vacation last week that Murray had accepted the Chelmsford position.

"It is with both sadness and dismay, frankly, that I write you to confirm what many of you have no doubt heard by now – that AHS Principal Steve Murray has accepted an offer to serve as principal of Chelmsford High School for the school year beginning September 1, 2015," McGrath said in her announcement.

McGrath said she was not aware Murray was pursuing the job and that, while not in writing, they had the basis for an agreement solidifying his permanent position at Andover High. 

After learning of Murray's decision to leave, McGrath said, she "tried mightily to urge him to change his mind, as did some members of our School Committee. But Steve had made up his mind and there was nothing that we could do to change it. As I say, I was and remain sorely disappointed."

Murray's resignation from Andover takes effect June 30.

"It's just disappointing," School Committee member Ted Teichert said. "I'm new to the School Committee but I know that the turnover at the high school came up in debates. I think Murray's a great guy and I'm disappointed that he's leaving."

The popular principal of West Middle School, Murray was tapped as the interim replacement for Dr. Christopher Lord when he abruptly resigned as principal of Andover High School early last December.

In March, McGrath announced she had selected Murray to lead Andover High permanently, making him the fourth principal in that position since 2010. She said she expected Murray would have a "successful and productive future for many years to come."

She said then that she had "every confidence that Mr. Murray will not only lead (Andover High) through its transition to a new schedule in September 2016, but his calm and emphatic leadership will provide the very best for the AHS community in the coming years."

Recently, McGrath and Murray engaged in negotiations over his new contract as high school principal, McGrath said in her announcement to the Andover school community. While going through this process, McGrath said, she was never aware that Murray was looking to be employed elsewhere.

"In fact, when I left for our recent spring break, I was quite sure that Steve and I had the basis of an agreement, even if we had not yet committed those terms to writing," she said. "This is why I was so stunned and disappointed to learn, upon returning to work a week later, that Steve had signed a contract to leave Andover for Chelmsford."

She said the terms of the offered contract "were and are absolutely competitive -- but at the same time competitive with the terms of contracts held by the rest of our school principals."

Murray will now return to the high school he graduated from, and the district where his career as an educator and administrator began. After serving as a middle school history teacher and assistant principal in Chelmsford, Murray made the Andover Public Schools home.

He served as the principal of West Middle School for 10 years, before he was immediately asked to fill the void at Andover High School left by Lord. 

Much of Murray's first week at Andover High School in December was spent in the classrooms. After Lord's resignation, questions surrounding the turnover in leadership at the high school was prevalent, and Murray said he was focused on making sure "that this transition is as smooth as possible for both staff and students so they can continue to focus on the skills and activities that AHS is known for."

Next year, Andover Public Schools will be led by an interim superintendent, as McGrath recently announced her resignation to spend time with her family. A search is underway for an interim, and a decision is expected in June.

Recently, efforts to find a permanent filler of the district's director of student services position -- tasked with overseeing the Special Education Department -- were unsuccessful. The role, held by interim Amy Reese this year, is expected to have a different interim next year. That appointment is expected soon.

Also, for the first time in 25 years, the town as a whole will be led by a new town manager, as Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski will retire in June.

And now, next year, Andover High School students and staff will be meeting their fifth principal since 2012. The search for an interim principal to lead the school next year will begin immediately, McGrath said, and a permanent principal search will commence in the fall.

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