The Tewksbury School District faces a challenging budget situation, is on the threshold of a major building project and is in the midst of a major overhaul of its elementary grades.
After six years as superintendent of schools in Dover, N.H., Dr. John O'Connor did not handpick a cushy assignment when seeking his next job. There was no time for a learning curve when he took over the reins in Tewksbury in July.
Still, while acknowledging the challenges faced by the district in the coming years, O'Connor is hardly overwhelmed. In fact, he said his new district reminds him quite a bit of his old one.
"They are a similar size, with similar numbers of students and employees," he said. "And you have the same set of problems there as here. You still need money to be able to provide students with an education."
Tewksbury is something of a Merrimack Valley homecoming for O'Connor, who grew up in Lawrence. For the past 20 years, he has worked and lived in Dover, the first 14 as a principal.
Despite his strong connection to and affection for that New Hampshire town, he admits he was ready for, "something different."
O'Connor had plenty of time to prepare for his new position, having been hired back in February. He was able to get up to speed on everything to do with the Tewksbury district.
But it was one special night in March when O'Connor got a real taste of the community he was preparing to join. That night, residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of building a new $82 million high school.
"That night, after spending the evening at Town Hall waiting for results, we went out to a local establishment to celebrate. There wound up being over 150 people there celebrating the vote," he recalled. "That was a great moment in the history of Tewksbury."
Along with the realignment of the elementary school and the ongoing budget crisis, O'Connor sees the construction of the new high school as one of his biggest challenges moving forward.
"The building won't be ready until the fall of 2012," he said. "I think we will have to remind people involved that this will be a long and arduous process."
At the moment, O'Connor is still commuting from Dover. But he and his wife are actively seeking housing locally and he hopes to be moving to the area some time soon.