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Edgewood Principal Announces Abrupt Departure

by Melissa Bailey | Dec 12, 2013 5:17 pm

(12) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Schools, Westville

Melissa Bailey Photo Just a year and a half after taking over Edgewood School, Principal Raeanne Reynolds shocked parents by announcing she plans to leave within weeks to take a job in Branford.

Reynolds announced the news to parent leaders at a meeting Tuesday at the popular, high-performing K-8 magnet school in Westville. She told her staff on Monday.

Reynolds said she will officially leave Jan. 1 to take a job as the new principal of the Mary Murphy Elementary School in Branford.

Assistant Principal Monique Brunson said she plans to send a letter out to parent soon announcing a transition plan: Brunson will take over as interim principal while the district launches a search for a permanent replacement.

“A lot of us were shocked,” said Mark Oppenheimer, one of 53 parents who learned the news at Tuesday’s parent team meeting. “Obviously it’s unusual and disappointing that a principal would leave on such short notice, mid-year.”

“Everybody was surprised. She’d only been there for 18 months,” said parent Matt Higbee.

Rumors began to circulate among Edgewood families after Reynolds told her staff of her departure Monday. On Thursday, some parents still didn’t know what was going on.

“Parents are still asking me questions: ‘When is she going?’ ‘Where is she going?’ ‘Why is she going?’” said parent activist Tim Holahan. “There’s still a lot of confusion and uncertainty” because no formal announcement had been made except at Tuesday’s parent meeting.

Reynolds said she planned to send a letter home to parents Thursday afternoon.

“Although my time at Edgewood was short, it was effective,” the letter reads. She said she is “eternally grateful” to all staff and families at the 460-student school.

In an interview in her office Thursday, Reynolds acknowledged concerns about the mid-year change in leadership.

“It wasn’t ideal,” she said. But staying through to the end of the school year “was not an option for my next step.”

In an interview Thursday, Superintendent Garth Harries said Reynolds notified the district late last week of her intention to leave her job.

“We think Principal Reynolds is a good educator and a good leader. Our initial step was to try to focus on retaining her if we could,” Harries said. “We got final word that she had made up her mind on Sunday night. With great affection for the school, she made the decision that this was the right step for her right now.”

“We’re all disappointed that Principal Reynolds is leaving,” Harries said. “We devoted some energy to trying to convince her to stay.

Why Leave?

Reynolds, who’s 44, grew up in New Haven. She has spent her entire 23-year career working in New Haven schools. She joined Edgewood School in July 2012, replacing star Principal Bonnie Pachesa, who retired after leading the school for a decade.

Reynolds said the decision to leave the district was tough: “I’m not just leaving my Edgewood family. I’m leaving my New Haven [Public Schools] family.”

She cited one benefit to the new job: It’s closer to home.

Reynolds, who lives in New Haven’s East Shore neighborhood, has been traveling across the Pearl Harbor Memorial “Q” Bridge to get to Edgewood School every day.

She was asked if the traffic on the Q Bridge prompted her decision.

“You hit the nail on the head,” she said, laughing. That’s “a big piece of it.”

According to Google Maps, her new commute to school will average seven minutes (in the opposite direction of rush-hour traffic). The commute to Edgewood is shown to take 15 minutes in traffic.

Reynolds said there’s no defining reason she’s choosing to leave the district.

“It’s an opportunity for me, and for my family,” she said. Without offering details, she said she is not “getting a big salary increase.”

She was asked if there was anything the district could do to keep talented educators from leaving. She said no. Superintendent Harries “has been wonderful to Edgewood, and to me,” she said. The district has “done a great job of supporting new principals. There are just personal decisions that people make.”

Reynolds said she plans to keep living in New Haven, where her family has roots.

In Branford, Reynolds will take over a school that’s a similar size as Edgewood, but with grades K to 4. She will join the school in a time of rebuilding. Last year, 3rd-grade test scores at Mary Murphy dropped by 20 points in several subjects, prompting concern from the school board. Reynolds will replace Michael Rafferty, who has been leading the school in an interim capacity since longtime Principal Anthony Buono got promoted to the Branford superintendent’s office.

Reynolds said her time at Edgewood, and in New Haven, “has been wonderful. That’s why it was such a difficult decision to make.”

“Bombshell”

Reynolds announced the news in a regular meeting of the school parent leadership team.

The decision met disappointment from parents.

“The school is in a strong position regardless of who the principal is,” said Oppenheimer. “Nevertheless, a lot of us were pretty disappointed.”

“It’s too bad that Ms. Reynolds feels that there are better schools for her,” he said.

Higbee said he would have liked Reynolds to stay the whole year. “At the same time, I want the principal to want to be the leader of our school.”

Oppenheimer took issue with her approach to sharing the news. She didn’t give parent organizers any advance notice about what she planned to announce Tuesday. Parents found out about her departure from staff, and recruited 53 parents to the meeting.

“Her plan to drop a bombshell like that was ill-considered,” Oppenheimer said. “I’m glad that it leaked beforehand. We had extraordinary turnout.”

Holahan said when parents learned the news, “a major theme of parent concern was continuity.”

“Discontinuity hurts kids,” he said.

“Principals should see a commitment of many years to a school—at least through the end of the year,” Oppenheimer said.

Harries was asked if he shares that concern. “Of course,” he replied. “It’s very clearly, we prefer to have stability, and we prefer to have a longer-term transition. That said, Edgewood remains a very strong and vibrant educational community. There’s good strong stability within the educational ranks, beyond the principal.”

Holahan said the district failed to play a proactive role in communicating the news. “A simple, clear message from NHPS to parents is how it should have gone. Instead, it just dribbled out through the rumor mill and social networks.”

Harries replied that when principals leave, “we try to be respectful of the principal, and – as the professional in that community – to communicate as they see fit.” Iline Tracey, the central office administrator assigned to supervise Edgewood School, attended Tuesday’s meeting at parents’ request.

Harries said the district’s role in this situation is twofold: provide support and to “move forward into future planning.”

“The most important thing is to develop a good plan for successor leadership,” Harries said.

The Transition

The transition in school leadership will be swift. Next week will be Reynolds’ last week with kids. Then the school goes on vacation from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1.

On Jan. 2, when kids return, Reynolds will be gone, and Assistant Principal Brunson will step into her new role in charge of the school, according to a plan announced to parents this week and confirmed by school leaders.

Reynolds said she has total confidence in her staff to carry on the school: “I trust the Edgewood staff completely,” she said. “As long as we find someone to support [Brunson], we’re going to be OK.”

“There’s good people holding down the fort,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds noted that Edgewood has many veteran teachers. Staff have been involved in the decisions facing the school, she said. “It’s not a building of followers. It’s a building of leaders.”

Brunson, who’s also 44, has been at Edgewood for the past 2 1/2 years. Like Reynolds, she grew up in New Haven. She has 23 years’ experience as an educator, including 16 working for New Haven Public Schools. She got her start as a paraprofessional at Edgewood School.

“Raeanne is leaving, but everyone else is in place,” Brunson said.

Dad Higbee agreed: “My feeling is that the school is stronger than the one person,” he said. “Many of the teachers have been there for a long time. I have confidence in them. They are the ones who have more day-to-day interaction with our kids.”

“I have a lot of confidence in the culture of the school,” he added, “that the school is going to continue to do good things and that we’ll find the right person” to lead it.

The Search

Higbee said he hopes that parents, as well as community members and students, will be included in choosing the next principal.

Higbee, a member of the parent leadership team, was one of the parents who helped craft a new process by which parents take a role in picking new principals. The new protocol, which the district piloted last year, sets a timeline for selecting new principals. It calls for schools to set up a panel of parents, who interview candidates and make recommendations to the superintendent, who makes the final call. Last year, a parent panel interviewed four candidates and “overwhelmingly” chose Reynolds, according to Pachesa.

“I hope that the board is again willing to including to including the parents and the teachers and the community” in the selection process, Higbee said.

Harries vowed to do so.

Oppenheimer said in interviewing new applicants, parents may want to seek assurance that the next school leader intends to stay for several years.

“If the goal is to find someone who’s committed to the school in the long-term, then the search failed,” he said.

The school district now has two openings for top school posts next fall. Alicia Caraballo, director of adult education, just announced she plans to retire at the end of the school year. Caraballo took advantage of a program that awards a $10,000 bonus to administrators who give the district six months’ notice of their departure. The deadline to do so is the end of the year.

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posted by: westvilleresident on December 12, 2013  7:20pm

It was a shock, certainly, but Edgewood has such a strong community, we are going to be just fine.  I think it is especially important, as parents, to convey that feeling of confidence to our children AND to the teachers and support staff. Indeed, teachers and staff may need more support than the kids in this transition!

posted by: NH06515 on December 12, 2013  10:08pm

My wife and I fully support Raeanne in her move to Branford. We understand that it has little to do with Edgewood or NHPS. I would encourage friends and fellow Edgewood parents to complain less and support more. Our children do not benefit from hearing gossip and overblown rhetoric. Our teachers do not benefit either. We do not want to create an atmosphere of negativity in our community and at our school. The timing of her departure is not ideal but the focus should be on moving forward, not this shock and outrage.

Parents were informed within days of the announcement to teachers. Appropriate under the circumstances.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on December 12, 2013  11:07pm

As a former Edgewood parent I sympathize of course with the parents and kids—and staff too, no doubt—who will find this disruptive.  But this is an awfully long and searching article for what seems to be exactly what Ms. Reynolds says it is:  she was good at her job; another school was looking to fill a vacancy mid-year; that school sought her out and made her an offer, and after spending some time weighing her options, she took the new job. End of story.  Where’s the scandal or hidden meaning in that?  Maybe there just isn’t any.

posted by: Mike Slattery on December 13, 2013  9:26am

Whatever the personal reasons are, there is no denying that solving Branford’s emergency took first place over avoiding one at Edgewood.

This leads me to ask, in a world of magnet and inter-district schools, how can it be OK for one municipality to poach from another mid-year?

Persons do things for personal reasons, but there should be consideration here among the towns here under a state umbrella.    It can’t be acceptable on a state level for the city that helped shape this professional into a person worth poaching to bear the hardship here.  If Branford would have been made to “buy out” her contract, or her year’s pay, just like professional sports teams do, then Branford might have elected to make do with an interim principal for half a year. 

And yeah, panic-making is not a good idea, but parents fought hard to be part of the hiring process, they connected with this person, and they advocated for her.  In a real sense these parents were part of the management who hired her.  Of course they would feel ambivalent at best about this news and the clumsy rollout.    Because this isn’t merely “not ideal.”  Two or three weeks notice is what you owe your shift manager at a restaurant.  As the manager of professionals, laborers, parents, children, and an academic mission under shifting practices and testing regimens - one would expect much more.

The biggest thing the article demonstrates is the upside of parent empowerment.  The fact that there are few fingers pointing up the chain shows why this empowerment is working.  These parents have a level of trust in the institution and that will benefit everyone in the interim.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on December 13, 2013  10:40am

NH06515,

I agree that the rhetoric is harmful. My wife and I looked at moving back to Westville from East Rock in the Fall.  I grew up in Westville and my dad went to Edgewood. One of my main concerns and one of the main reasons we are not moving is the rhetoric we are hearing from parents that Edgewood is going downhill. 

At some level we need to not be disproportionately negative, but at another we can’t sweep the public sentiment under the rug.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 13, 2013  10:57am

Well, maybe the new Principal can manage to remove my phone number from the Edgewood call list.  I KNEW about the parent meeting and had no reason to.

I’ve requested my removal several times before.

posted by: Noteworthy on December 13, 2013  11:08am

Selfie Notes:

1. Branford doesn’t have an emergency and if it does, it is from a failure to plan. There is an interim principal. One would think he could last another six months.

2. If one has lived in New Haven pretty much all her life, it is reasonable to assume she knew about the Q Bridge and the 8 additional minutes it takes to commute.

3. Leaving in mid-terms is disruptive to the children and to parents. Unless there is a critical need for it, it should be avoided out of respect and concern for those same populations. Convenience isn’t critical.

4. A lot of people invested a substantial amount of time in the interview/promotion of Ms. Reynolds. They are correct to feel slighted notwithstanding the ability to move forward to continue school support. While some may think negative comments about Ms. Reynolds’ mid-year choice should be hidden from children - my view is that it should be discussed in terms of a commitment not kept. It’s a life lesson that ought not be ignored. 

5. It is also appropriate that the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year is “Selfie.”

posted by: Teachergal on December 13, 2013  1:29pm

Congratulations Raeanne! New Havens loss and Branfords gain. I’m sure there is more to the story but Raeanne is a professional and will move on gracefully. Her reasons surely are personal and need not be reported in the news. Mary T. Murphy is a smaller school and truly appropriate to her experience and skills. I’m sure she had to make the decision quickly if she were to get the job. New haven will surely survive despite the fact she was probably one heck of an administrator.

posted by: robn on December 13, 2013  1:51pm

If completing a full academic year is what parents want from Principals or whomever, they should ask that to be embedded in the Principals contract. Otherwise its a free country.

posted by: wbstar on December 13, 2013  11:37pm

If this had happened at a school like Lincoln-Bassett, Fair Haven or Clemente there would be no article. Get over yourselves Edgewood parents- Ms. Reynolds is free to make decisions that improve the quality of her life. Good luck Raeanne!

posted by: Iteachem on December 14, 2013  12:21pm

Two comments. One, concerning Mrs. Reynolds quick departure. Do we know for a fact she gave short notice, or did she give a longer notice which was not accepted? Second, the Mary Murphy School has just won the lottery. Mrs. Reynolds is an excellent teacher, coach, and administrator whose dedication is unparalleled.

posted by: Po Etry on December 15, 2013  10:40am

Raeanne Reynolds is an outstanding educator and leader.  I’m sure she wrestled with the decision to leave mid-year, but, ultimately, she has the right to decide what’s best for her and her family.  I agree with Teachergal—this is Branford’s gain, and I’m certain she’ll work wonders there.  Just as an aside, the current K-8 model in NH is a demanding one for administrators, teachers and staff.  It’s a vast expanse of curriculum, content knowledge and child development to attend to.  If I were an administrator with a solid background in elementary education, I’d feel like I could successfully improve student learning, instructional practice, and effective (positive) parent engagement if I was at the helm of a K-4 building.  Best wishes to you, Raeanne.  And to you, Edgewood School!

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