NIS Principal McNeil Leaving Nantucket; Housing Played “Significant” Role In Decision
David Creed •
Six years ago the Nantucket Intermediate School opened its doors and became the home for island students in grades 3-5 in the public school system. Evemarie McNeil was its first principal and to this day she considers it to be one of the great honors of her professional career. But this week McNeil announced that she will be leaving NIS at the end of the 2022-2023 school year when her contract expires, a decision related to circumstances that were family related and others that were out of her control.
“It is so multi-faceted and so complex how someone arrives at this decision,” McNeil said. “It was really hard for me because it was so complex. I am always reflective when I come to the end of a contract and this is the end of my second contract. I would never dream of leaving in the middle of one. It is a moment to pause, but there are also other things that have changed for me personally. When we moved here, my kids were heading to college or already in college. They would be here for the whole summer and they were here for the entirety of the school vacation weeks. But now they have all launched and their lives are off-island. All of my extended family is off-island too. My parents are on the other side of 75 now. So family is a factor.”
But McNeil said she wants the island to know what turned out to be one of the most significant reasons for her departure: an inability to find housing.
McNeil said she and her husband Rob, who was the former director of the town’s Department of Public Works, were blessed with excellent housing for their first four years on-island. But eventually they were told by a landlord that the housing was needed for others. Initially both her and her husband were actually excited about the opportunity to search for a home of their own and settle on the island for years to come.
“We wanted to buy a house on Nantucket,” McNeil said. “We worked with a realtor and we would go to see things beginning in the late summer and fall of 2021. We would go to see a house and it would be snatched up by someone else and just be gone before we could even get there. The inventory was just disappearing before we could get to these homes and there just wasn’t much. Then as the search went on, the prices just kept going up and up and up when finally Rob and I looked at each other with some of the least expensive options being $2 million dollars or higher and just said ‘what are we doing'?”
Once they realized buying a home wasn’t attainable at the time, they directed their attention back to the rental market. That process didn’t go much smoother, but eventually they did find one opportunity by using a rental page on Facebook.
“A person reached out after I used that Facebook page and the cost was astronomical,” McNeil said. “They said ‘what other options do you have?’ and they were right - I didn’t have any other options. So Rob and I said yes, signed the lease, and that is where we are now.
“I just want people to know this housing issue is impacting all levels of income," she added. "It goes from our teachers who are working so, so hard to someone like me who is at a director or administrator level, and I still feel like I failed to find reasonable housing that makes it financially stable to stay. We were really invested and we wanted to own here. I will say having gone through this experience, I know how all-consuming the process is. I think I always was aware of it, but now when a teacher comes to me with that issue, I feel like I truly understand it.”
McNeil has been a staple in the public school system since her arrival six years ago. She had over 12 years of experience as a teacher at the elementary level before coming to the island and also had about five years of experience as a principal.
But the opportunity at NIS was a new challenge she fully embraced from the beginning. Moving to an island and being the leader chosen to represent a building in its beginning years was something she was very excited for.
“What I am most proud of is together we created a culture of continuance learning right out of the gate where we are all learning and growing together. People embraced that idea that we were going to create a culture that was inclusive, respectful, and collaborative. We have all done it together,” McNeil said. “I am confident that culture has been established and that it will continue because people who started with us have left and new people have joined, and as a school we never lost the momentum of that culture. I genuinely believe without having that sort of school culture, it is hard to do the teaching and learning parts well.”
Creating a cohesive culture, one where students are excited to go to school and feel wanted and supported is imperative to a student's success in McNeil's eyes. For kids at NIS or elsewhere in grades 3-5, they are still relatively new to school and what it embodies. They are still in the beginning stages of developing the foundation to their education as well as the approach to learning and habits they will carry with them into future years. It was important to McNeil that NIS become a school that helps any child prepare for the challenges ahead.
“Every week I write a reflection to my staff and this week I reflected on their greatness and their contributions to everything here because the culture here goes far beyond me,” she said. “What has been created here is powerful. We have the sweet spot of ages I like to say because we have these grade three, four, and five kids who come to school ready to learn and wanting to learn. We don’t yet have those big kid problems. I always say little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems.
“A lot of my experience off-island was pre-K to grade five and a lot of these young students are just learning what school is like and how to do school. Their level of independence is less as you can imagine since they are younger. I am so proud of the NIS school community and the staff and how they are all genuinely here for the kids. It is so evident in everything they do and that for sure is not going to change.”
As for what is next in her life, McNeil is going into it with an open mind. She said she made the decision now because it will give the school plenty of time to find a great candidate to come to NIS.
"The hiring season starts now and the good people can go quick,” McNeil said. She added that she does not want to rush into any decisions and is looking forward to enjoying the rest of her time at NIS this year before moving onto the next chapter of her life, whether it be in education or another field.
“Teaching is all I know,” McNeil said. “When I was a kid I knew I would be a teacher some day and as I moved through high school and college, I knew I was going to study education. My whole entire career has been education. But I am going to intentionally give myself some space to see what opportunities might show themselves. I am wide open to whatever and wherever my skillset and leadership skills can best be utilized. I don’t have an exact idea in mind to what is next.”