By Barry Scanlon | Lowell Sun
LOWELL — As the new executive director of the Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School, Sean McCarthy has an office.
He just doesn’t plan on sitting in it often.
“To me, it’s all about being approachable, visible and accessible,” the 50-year-old Andover resident said. “I take pride in leaving the office.”
McCarthy has been in his new post since June 12 after being hired to replace Marge McDevitt, who ran the school, located downtown at 67 Middle St., for 17 years.
The Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School caters to students ages 15-21 who are risk of dropping out of high school. Lowell residents make up the majority of the student body, but students from Billerica, Chelmsford, Dracut, Lawrence, Methuen, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford also attend.
The school can accept up to 150 students. Last year saw 85-90 students attend.
McCarthy said increasing enrollment is one of his first goals. Even at 120-150 students, LMACS would be small enough to service high school students who have left district high school prior to graduation.
“That’s the magic formula,” he said. “I think you can do amazing work at that scale. I grew up in the Merrimack Valley and I didn’t know a lot about the school until I started looking into it. I think it’s, unfortunately, a well-kept secret. I know there are many students who can benefit from the school. We’re small. We can really serve kids well. Enrollment is a big priority for us.”
McDevitt was popular with her staff.
“Marge left the school in really good shape. Sean is in a good position,” said Mike Kaminski, a humanities instructor at Lowell Middlesex Academy since 2009. “Sean really has big shoes to fill.”
Kaminski gives tours of the school during the summer and has gotten to know McCarthy.
“He’s a good listener. I’ve gotten a really good vibe from him,” Kaminski said. “You need new energy.”
Kaminski describes the faculty as an “all-star team.”
“We just need the right coach,” he said. “Sean’s going to be the one. It really is the right school for a lot of students. LMACS is a small school and it has a lot of charm. LMACS is a hidden jewel in downtown Lowell. Most people don’t know about it.”
Another humanities instructor, Erika Lanier, who started at the school in 2004, said McCarthy has already made a positive impression.
“Marge did an amazing job building a culture of community here. He acknowledges that and he wants to refine that. What can we do to build on that? He’s open. I think he’s going to have a great connection with the students,” Lanier said. “That’s the kind of energy he’ll bring to the school.”
McCarthy and his wife, Nicole Shadeed, have a son, Beckett, 7, and a daughter, Zaya, 3.
A Lawrence native, McCarthy graduated from Methuen High after moving with his family to the city.
He received an English degree from Fitchburg State, the first of his many academic stops. He then collected master’s degrees from Emerson College (creative writing), Middlebury College (English) and Columbia University (School Leadership).
In 2019, he earned his doctorate in Education in Leadership in Schooling from UMass Lowell.
His work life has seen him pivot from a Lawrence elementary school English teacher to a Lawrence High English teacher.
He then became an administrator, serving as an assistant principal at Lawrence High for math, science and technology, and then principal at Lawrence High for business management and finance.
While gaining his doctorate, McCarthy became an adjunct professor in the English department at Middlesex Community College (2017), the interim director of the PALS program at Phillips Academy (2018-19), an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at UMass Lowell (2019), interim head of school at the Bentley Academy Charter School in Salem (2019-20) and an adjunct professor in the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College (2016-present).
“I’m very excited and enthusiastic about it,” he said of joining the LMACS team. “Looking over the course of my career, without even knowing it I’ve been working up to his kind of place. Their mission is something I so much believe in.”
LMACS drew rave reviews for the way it handled the pandemic last school year. Will the 2021-22 school year be a more normal one when the school opens its doors Sept. 1?
“It’s fluid,” McCarthy said, explaining that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines seem to be changing “week to week” as coronavirus spikes occur across the country.
“There’s plenty of work ahead,” he said.
McCarthy can’t wait to get going. In and outside his office.