The Tonawanda City School Board decided to stay close to home and approved secondary school Principal James Newton as its new superintendent this week by a 6-1 vote.

Newton, a South Buffalo native who has worked as a principal in the district since 1998, will begin his new job Jan. 22.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “I know the district so well, and that’s going to help me. I know what the needs are.”

The details of Newton’s contract have yet to be finalized. He was selected after the district recruited community members to serve on a search committee. The large audience at Tuesday night’s meeting met the news with applause.

“This is the best thing the board has done in a very long time,” said district resident Dana Maxwell.

Newton began his academic career as a technology teacher in Clarkstown in 1987. He eventually became an assistant principal in Amherst in 1996. He was hired in Tonawanda two years later as the middle school principal but has added the responsibility of supervising the high school in recent years.

He succeeds Whitney Vantine, who retired from Tonawanda in October 2011. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Beth Scullion has served in the interim.

Board of Education President Jackie Smilinich said the board narrowed its search to two candidates but would not say whether the other candidate also worked within the district.

“We followed the advisory committee’s guidance on their hopes and fears, and that played a major factor,” Smilinich said. “His ability to lead within the district has been phenomenal.”

Shortly after the superintendent vote, in which she was the lone dissenter, board member Lynn Casal got up from her seat, submitted a letter of resignation to the board clerk and left the meeting.

“Due to the numerous board leaks during the superintendent search and the fact that they appointed the person with the least amount of experience for the job, I hereby resign my seat,” Casal wrote in her resignation letter. “The whole process was a waste of our time and the district’s money. Therefore I no longer want to be a part of a group that does not align with my morals or beliefs.”

It is the second time Casal has resigned from the board. She originally resigned in 2010, but in 2011 petitioned the board to regain the seat after it failed to appoint her replacement. She was re-elected to the board later that year.

In her resignation letter Tuesday, Casal noted it was her pleasure to serve the district for 5½ years.

The resignation did little to dampen the mood of other board members.

“We have very high expectations and are very excited about the future,” board member Jennifer Mysliwy said of the appointment.

Newton said his priorities are to continue the district’s capital project that will renovate several buildings and build a new Clint Small Stadium at the high school complex, and to prepare the budget for the 2013-14 school year.