NORTH SMITHFIELD – Several experienced staff members in the North Smithfield School District announced their intent to retire this month and in some cases, their replacements have already been found, with talented administrators tapped to fill the vacancies.
Among those leaving the district is North Smithfield High School nurse Janine Ethier, a longtime employee who was among those honored at the school’s commencement ceremony last June.
“Janine’s been a rock at my school for many, many years,” said Principal Timothy McGee. “She’s just unbelievable.”
Supt. Michael St. Jean also acknowledged the district’s loss at a School Committee meeting Tuesday night, joking that he didn’t want to let the nurse – who has had an extra challenging job through the two-year pandemic – leave just yet.
“I told her that I was going to be striking that item from the agenda,” St. Jean said.
But Ethier is just one of many district employees whose resignations were announced in recent weeks.
Although his retirement won’t officially take effect until the end of June, Middle School Principal John Lahar has left the position mid-year, using a combination of vacation and sick leave to finish out his tenure. Lahar has held the role since the school first opened in 2008.
Christine Lopes, a 20 year district employee who, until recently, served as the school’s assistant principal, has stepped in to take his place. And Amy Wright, a former union president who has worked as a district administrator and math interventionist in recent years, will serve as vice principal at the school.
For Lopes, the promotion takes effect immediately, while Wright has been named “dean of students,” a role expected to transition to vice principal at the start of summer.
St. Jean noted that the district advertised and interviewed candidates for both positions, but found there was talented staff available in house.
“We have a wealth of internal candidates,” St. Jean said. “We just have such strong in-district potential.”
Lopes, a former sixth grade teacher, started with the district in 2002, and has served as assistant principal since 2018.
St. Jean said that while it can be tough to lose seasoned leadership, “Christine has that too. She’s been in the building not just as an administrator, but as a teacher, an assistant principal and now principal.”
“The energy between her and Amy, the intelligence, the dedication, the love of the kids – middle school is an exciting place,” said St. Jean. “It’s wonderful.”
Of Wright, he added, “I just love the fact that she’s gone from president of the union to an administrator. She was brilliant then. She’ll be brilliant now.”
School Committee members also lauded the transition in leadership.
“I think that will be a very positive change for the school, so I’m very happy to see that,” said Chairman James Lombardi.
Member William Connell said that while it may be tough for the school to change administrators mid-year amid the ongoing pandemic, “I’m sure we’re in very good hands.”
Other staff members to announce their retirement include Pupil Personnel Services Administrative Assistant Renee Denton, High School Instructional Assistant Ann Rock and English teacher Bronwyn Morrissey-Valorose.
Each of the longtime staff members were praised by their colleagues.
PPS Director Suzanne Rathbun noted that started in North Smithfield the same month in the same year as Denton, some thirty years age.
“We’ve worked so closely together,” Rathbun said of Denton. “She is just my right arm, my left arm… she’s amazing at what she does.”
Rathbun noted it was Denton who started the, “box tops for education,” fundraiser while working at the former Halliwell Elementary School, an effort she continued long after moving on to PPS.
“She truly can multi-task like no one else, and she goes above and beyond,” said Rathbun. “She’s always there to help. She’s really done a phenomenal job. I really sad about her leaving.”
Of Rock, Rathbun added, “Ann is one of those instructional assistants that, again, goes above and beyond the call of duty. The students just love her. She’s so dedicated and passionate about her job.”
“We’re very very sad to see you go,” Rathbun said of Rock.
Lopes noted she worked with Rock at NSMS before she took a position at the high school.
“She is just an absolute joy,” said Lopes. “She could get the toughest kids to just melt in her hands.”
“She’s just a wonderful person- great teacher,” McGee added of the departing educator.
The principal also acknowledged department chair Morrissey-Valorose.
“She’s done a marvelous job for us and our students, and I wish her the very best,” McGee said.
“I’ve worked with all of them. It is hard to lose such amazing people,” said Lopes. “We’re losing three really great people.”