MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A search for a new Mahopac Middle School principal is under way after district officials announced last week that current principal Vince DiGrandi is leaving the post to become principal at neighboring North Salem’s combined middle school/high school.
District officials are scrambling to find a replacement, having to briefly delay the commencement of the search until the North Salem School District could officially name DiGrandi as its new principal. Now that that has happened, Mahopac’s search is under way.
“We have posted the job and will be screening candidates tomorrow (Friday, July 14) and will interview candidates through July,” said Dr. Dennis Creedon, school superintendent. “It won’t be easy considering how beloved Mr. DiGrandi is.”
DiGrandi is a Mahopac native and a graduate of the MHS Class of 1989. He came to the Mahopac School District in 2013 after serving as principal of Fishkill Plains Elementary School, part of Wappinger Central School District in Dutchess County. He worked in the Wappinger Central School District for more than six years, starting there as the assistant principal of John Jay High School in East Fishkill.
DiGrandi said he knows there are rumors swirling around the circumstances of his departure, but said the reasons are relatively straightforward.
“You are always reflective of where you are at and where you want to be in this business,” DiGrandi said. “North Salem was not something I was initially looking at. But I knew that their principal and vice principal were there together for like 30 years and did so much together. That’s unheard of in education and raised a flag for me that this must be someplace special. I grew up [in Mahopac] and would never bash it, but this was a very unique opportunity. It’s once-in-a-lifetime. The word on the street is this is where people go [to have long careers and] retire. It’s a good school district and after a lot of reflection with me and my family I decided to take it.”
DiGrandi, who lives in Bethel, Conn., said the North Salem job will also mean a shorter commute for him.
“This is my opportunity to put my mark on a building that is for kids in grades 6 through 12,” he said. “That’s a challenge for me. It’s both a middle school and a high school and that is unique. It’s smaller [than Mahopac] and very tight-knit and I think I can get to know the families and the kids a little better. That’s very exciting for me.”
DiGrandi said leaving Mahopac was a difficult decision, especially in light of all the progress the district has made over the past several years.
“I did enjoy my time here; in one word, it was awesome,” he said. “What we have done, and I always use the word ‘we,’ in four years has been phenomenal. I love to come to this building because of the kids and staff. The energy level makes you want to come every day.”
DiGrandi said there were some difficult challenges during his tenure at Mahopac, but the school community united and overcame them.
“We had some student deaths and some staff deaths, but it has made us stronger,” he said. “Those were the most challenging times for me, but they were the most empathetic experiences and they made us grow. You always look for the silver lining.”
DiGrandi said he thinks Mahopac is on the right track and has plenty of great people still on staff to guide it into the future.
“I think they’ve made some great hires and the people I have worked with are phenomenal,” he said, “but this (North Salem) was a unique opportunity. I like change. It keeps you fresh; it keeps you growing.”
Creedon said that whoever the district hires to replace DiGrandi will have some big shoes to fill.
“He has that rare blend of intelligence but still able to come across as humble and make you feel non-threatened,” Creedon said. “He is a brilliant administrator and theorist. The school made great strides in the last four years under Vince and he made it a safe place for teachers to experiment with instructional technology. When you try something new it can be off-putting, but he made everyone feel comfortable and made the life of a teacher easier. He helped them use [new technology] effectively.”
Creedon said with the search for DiGrandi’s replacement underway, he is confident a star candidate will emerge.
“There are great educators out there who have put their names forward,” he said. “We are interviewing nine or 10 on Friday (July 14) and then have a more formal committee to interview them in near future. We will move forward. We will find someone who is a great fit for Mahopac.”
Creedon said that while losing DiGrandi is a blow to the district, it is not unusual for an administrator to depart after just four years.
“One thing people have to realize is that people [in education] are going to have 10 jobs; these days, nothing remains stagnant,” he said. “It’s not because they don’t love Mahopac, but they have the best interests of their families to take into consideration. All we can do is wish them well and thank them for the what they have done when they were with us.”
DiGrandi will officially take over the North Salem job Aug. 15.