It was August, 2008, and it was not a happy time.
Gloucester High School, and the city as a whole, had been reeling throughout the summer in the face of a teen pregnancy spike, an alleged "pact" among girls to get pregnant — a false claim, most now agree — and the global media circus that followed.
And Gloucester High Principal Joseph Sullivan decided some three weeks before the start of a new school year that Mayor Carolyn Kirk and then-Superintendent Christopher Farmer's handling of the pregnancy issue had so undercut his credibility that "the already difficult and challenging job of being the high school principal (had become) next to impossible."
In resigning — oh, he "retired," yet took a new job as principal of a Catholic school in Wakefield just days later — Sullivan left those challenges to Bill Goodwin, a 1971 Gloucester High School graduate and longtime educator who had worked his way up to be Gloucester High's assistant principal.
Goodwin took over as interim principal. But would he be up to the task of rebuilding confidence in the school, let along the students' self-esteem?
You bet. Just six months later, Superintendent Farmer, backed by the School Committee, removed the interim tag, choosing Goodwin as permanent principal over seven outside finalists. And, over the last four years, that commitment to Goodwin has been returned countless times over.
Emphasizing that Gloucester High School students and graduates can indeed make it anywhere, whether for college or career, Goodwin has proven time and time again that he was precisely the kind of leader that Gloucester High School needed — just when the school and the city needed him most.
The news that Goodwin is retiring effective at the end of August this year means the School Committee now faces every bit as big a challenge in finding a successor as he faced during those first few days of the 2008-2009 school year.
But committee members can be confident in at least one truth: the next principal will be taking the reins of a much stronger Gloucester High School than the one Goodwin found four years ago. And, despite his own claims to the contrary, he is a prime reason for that.
He deserves all of Gloucester's congratulations for a job well done — and a few very hearty notes of thanks.