AYER -- The new school year brings many new things: new clothes, new faces and new stories.
This year, Ayer Shirley Regional High School students will return to class on Aug. 29 to be greeted by a new principal, assistant principal and new athletic director.
Spencer Christie, a former English teacher who ventured into administration, will serve as principal. Miriam Meyer, a doctor of psychology and certified special education teacher, takes the role as assistant principal.
The two were hired on July 1 by school Superintendent Mary Malone after an extensive search and sorting through scores of applicants.
"He is one of the most passionate educators I have ever met. He is a vsionary and is committed to maintaining our high standards and moving forward," Malone said of Christie, who then lead the effort to hire his assistant.
"He set up the interview committee and Dr. Meyer was among the finalists," Malone said. "She (Meyer) is very well qualified, highly knowledgeable with great enthusiasm that showed through during the interview."
The 400 students at the high school also will get to meet the new athletic director, Steve Kendall.
Even the 3-year-old building smells new. A new stuffed panther will serve as the mascot. There also will be new hours. After factoring in traffic, bus routes, students' need for rest and other metrics, the superintendent and her new administrators have moved the morning start time from 7:19 a.
Christie most recently worked in the King Philip Regional School District, while Meyer worked in Marlboro schools. Both embrace the idea of being in a smaller high school.
"It's more personalized," said Christie. "I get to know all the students and recognize them when they walk through the door. It's all about connections and relationships. They might forget what they learned in chemistry class, but they won't forget the connections they made."
Meyer agrees that with a smaller student body there is less competition in extracurricular activities, thereby giving students the opportunity, and the confidence, to participate.
"Students learn more about themselves when they're free to explore other activities," And that discovery builds self esteem and self-awareness that, according to Meyer, "helps them interact with each other on a deeper level."
Another new feature at the school this year is an EMT certification program that culminates in students obtaining licenses. The class is also accredited to be worth eight college credits, along with providing valuable life skills for employment.
"And our job doesn't end in the classroom," said Christie. "We hope too that that dedication from the teachers reflects back as dedication by the students; not just to the staff but to each other and in the community."
Malone, who is entering her fifth year as superintendent, modestly touts some academic successes, including an increase in Advanced Placement testing from 34 in 2014 to 149 in 2017. Every incoming senior last year graduated.
But it is the character of the young men and women who pass through the halls where true success is measured.
"There is no town-versus-town competition here," said Christie, who has already met several students over the summer. "There is ethnic and economic diversity, but most importantly there is a diversity of ideas."