Abrupt end for AHS principal; Questions surround Lord's departure after 2 school years

FILE PHOTOQuestions surround last week's surprise resignation of Andover High School Principal Christopher Lord after just two full school years on the job. 

Almost one week following the resignation of Andover High School Principal Dr. Christopher Lord, questions continue to surround the sudden departure of the school’s leader after just 2 1/2 years.

In a brief, written statement released by the School Department last week, Lord said he was “leaving my post in Andover to pursue another career opportunity.”

Yet several school officials and school sources contacted over the last several days have maintained they do not know, or will not comment on, where Lord is headed or any details of the “career opportunity” that led him to step down.

Some students and parents said Lord had not been seen around Andover High School for up to three weeks prior to his Dec. 5 resignation. His absence led one parent of a high-schooler to ask about Lord’s whereabouts at a School Committee last Thursday night, Dec. 4.

“He’s out on personal business,” Superintendent Marinel McGrath said in response to a question from parent Cindy Cromer.

The next morning, McGrath sent out a letter to the entire district announcing Lord’s resignation effective immediately. 

Friday’s letter from McGrath included an undated message from Lord to the Andover High School learning community that read:

“With a mixture of sadness and excitement, I’m writing to announce that I am leaving my post in Andover to pursue another career opportunity. I am proud of the work we did together and where the school is headed. I’m confident the entire community will continue to act in the best interests of our most valuable asset — our children. I want to thank Dr. McGrath and all of my colleagues in the Andover Public Schools for helping make my time in Andover a period of professional growth. I will miss everyone, especially the kids, and will recall fondly my time in Andover.”

Lord, who sources say lives in North Andover, could not be reached for comment.

Stephen Murray, principal of neighboring West Middle School, has taken over as Andover High’s interim principal for the remainder of the year. West Middle School Assistant Principal Rebecca Franks will finish the year as her school’s principal, supported by Assistant Superintendent Nancy Duclos. 

McGrath did not return several calls after Lord’s resignation, responding only by email to reiterate what she had stated in her letter.

“Dr. Lord is pursuing another career opportunity,” she said. “On behalf of the Andover Public Schools, I thank him for his service and wish him well.”

When asked how long she had known Lord had been pursuing other career opportunities, McGrath said by email, “I have nothing to add. My comment speaks for itself.”

Lord’s resignation came as a surprise to several School Committee members, who said they had no advance notice of his departure.

“I don’t know where (Lord) is going,” Chairman Annie Gilbert said last Friday morning. “I really don’t know. The School Committee was informed today (Friday), along with everyone else.”

When Lord arrived in Andover at the start of the 2012-13 school year, he was the high school’s third principal in four years. When asked about the rapid turnover of the school’s leadership, Gilbert said they’re case-by-case situations, not due to one problem.

“I’m choosing to look forward,” she said, “not back.”

Students last week had begun speculating about Lord’s absence. 

“For the past week, there has been some speculation that something was going to happen, because I guess Dr. Lord has been out for a couple of weeks,” said Andover High senior Jason Grosz, who serves as the student liaison to the School Committee.

Amrutha Palaniyappan, another senior, said Lord had been out of school for the past 2 1/2 to three weeks. 

”I first found out that he wasn’t around when I had to get his approval for a club I’m running,” she said. “Ms. Jordan, the assistant principal, said he was out and signed it for me. It didn’t seem like he’d be coming back anytime soon.”

Lord came to Andover in July 2012 from Rhode Island, where he previously served as principal of Shea High School in Pawtucket and was a runner-up for the state’s principal of the year award.

However, he was forced to leave the inner-city school, essentially fired as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act for not meeting its graduation-rate requirements, even while parents, students and other principals praised him for the work he had done to improve the school and its culture. He was called “the sacrificial lamb” who was cut in order for the Pawtucket school district to receive resources.

Despite being forced out of Shea High School by NCLB rules, he became a finalist for jobs in Medway, Lunenburg and Reading before ultimately choosing Andover High for his next career move because he said it felt like the right fit for him. He moved to the area with his wife and two sons, then 15 and 10.

In his short tenure in Andover, Lord had developed a reputation for his strict, “zero tolerance” policies on student violence and alcohol, drug and tobacco use, such as instituting a Breathalyzer test for all students attending high school dances, including the school’s prom.  

Up until Nov. 14, Lord was regularly updating his Andover High Principal blog, highlighting the accomplishments of the Robotics Club and the fall sports teams. His last Tweet, under the Twitter name AHSWarrior1, was sent Nov. 16 wishing the Andover High girls swim team well as it competed for the state title.

For the past two years, Lord had been working as part of the High School Schedule Subcommittee. A new schedule was approved by the School Committee this fall over the concerns of some parents and students. On Nov. 20, the schedule was OK’d by the teachers union through collective bargaining. A group was now forming to put in place the process for implementation. 

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