Former Principal Returns From ‘Burbs

Christopher Peak PhotoHer father and her grandfather both went to Hooker. She went elsewhere, but soon, she’ll be leading her family’s alma mater as principal, as she returns home from a job in the suburbs.

Margaret Mary Gethings is leaving her current job as principal of Branford’s John B. Sliney School to become principal at Worthington Hooker School. After an extensive interview process, she was picked to take over for Evelyn Robles-Rivas, who resigned in late August to supervise bilingual programs in Meriden. The new job will pay a salary of $150,268.

Gethings hasn’t decided on a start date yet. In part, Superintendent Carol Birks told the Board of Education at its Monday night meeting, that’s because her current boss can’t bear to see her go.

“New Haven basically stole a gem from Branford,” Birks said. “I had an opportunity to talk with her current superintendent, who I know personally, and he said, ‘You’re stealing someone back to New Haven who is probably one of my most talented leaders in the district.’ He asked, ‘Can I have her a little while longer?’”

To Gethings, Birks added, “New Haven is really lucky to have you back.”

After getting her start in education in Stamford almost 25 years ago, Gethings worked in New Haven’s public schools as a special education teacher and an instructional coach.

Most recently, she led Fair Haven School, where she served first as assistant principal and then as principal for eight years. Along with then-Principal Kim Johnsky, Gethings was credited with calming behavioral issues and improving building culture at Fair Haven — all without much in the way of extra resources for its growing population of new immigrant arrivals, many of them learning English for the first time.

In 2015, Gething’s announcement that she was leaving for Branford came unexpectedly. At the time, she called it “probably the most difficult decision I’ve made in my life.” On Monday night, she said she’d had to make the move for personal reasons involving her family.

Coming back, she added, had been a “no-brainer.” As she said her family had put it, “You never wanted to leave New Haven.” She told them they were right, and she couldn’t wait to pick up where she left off.

“My GPS has always been my heart,” Gethings said. “I’m back with just such clarity and excitement to be working in a district that is ceiling-less for children’s potential. What matters most is finding what motivates each and every one of us.”

Gethings added that she was particularly excited to teach at Hooker, where her father and grandfather had graduated. She said she saw how their education there defined them throughout their lives, how it entered the “fabric of their being.” She committed to making sure the school community feels the same way under her leadership.

“I know how I’ve always felt about the schools I attended: they define who we are,” Gethings said. “As an employee, as a teacher and administrator, as a staff developer and instructional coach, my schools have always been my second family.”

As she spoke on Monday night, Gethings held up the “blue sheets,” the packet of papers that lists all the personnel changes in the district twice a month. Her name was at the top.

“This is my trophy,” Gethings beamed. “This is my end of the ribbon race.”

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posted by: Politics 101 on October 23, 2018  3:48pm

So while other schools in the district with principal vacancies did not get to pick their principals but instead were assigned from a pool of existing displaced NHPS administrators, Hooker just got to do a global search outside of the district and pick the best candidate available? How nice for them. I guess that’s what happens when your school population is 78% white and Asian and only 14% eligible for free and reduced lunch. Needless to say, those numbers are not reflective of NHPS numbers district wide.

posted by: Justanurse on October 23, 2018  4:40pm

Congratulations Marg…How lucky are they to have you! Bethe

posted by: Molly W on October 23, 2018  7:03pm

What Politics 101 said x 101. And Ms. Gethings, slam the brakes on the shameful 8th grade trip to Disney.

posted by: Voices off on October 23, 2018  9:00pm

Molly W… the same shameful trip that two other schools in the district go one but leave kids behind who can’t pay for it.  Yes, shame shame for trying to make something available to students who might never otherwise go.

posted by: 1644 on October 24, 2018  7:26am

I believe Gethings was one of two great principals Branford got from New Haven.  I recall, Edgewood’s principal left mid-year for Branford.  Unlike New Haven,  Branford has only one administrator, the principal,  for its three elementary schools, so this departure leaves a big hole at Sliney School.

posted by: Massimo on October 25, 2018  10:27pm

to justanurse-

Why are they “lucky” to have her?  I assert that quite literally any sentient being could be appointed principal of Worthington Hooker School, and it would still enjoy the academic success it already does.

Schools such as Hooker are all about the students, and especially their families.  Despite all the fawning over Ms.Gethings’ appointment, principals’ influence on these kinds of schools is negligible.

posted by: 1644 on October 26, 2018  8:29am

Poli101’s website link makes for interesting comparisons.  Sliney has 33% free and reduced lunch students, while Hooker has only 14%.  Sliney, also, has twice the number of Hispanic students.  Hooker, on the other hand, has far more inexperienced teachers.

posted by: Politics 101 on October 26, 2018  8:40am

@Massimo and @1644

The best teachers I know are consummate professionals. That said, it’s always struck me that the best paid teachers have the easiest jobs (teaching in high income suburbs with nearly universal pre-school attendance) and experienced teachers actively seek the easiest jobs (leaving New Haven, for example, for Guilford, for example). The same is not true of other professions. The best engineers, doctors, and lawyers seek the most challenging work, and sometimes forego higher salaries for more interesting work. That doesn’t seem to be the case for teachers and principals (there are exceptions to every rule, of course).

Meanwhile, I’d love for someone on the Board of Ed or at 54 Meadow Street to respond to my initial comment. Why did the whitest, wealthiest school in the district get a special process for selecting a new principal? If they won’t respond, please Paul Bass or Christopher Peak, this merits investigation.

posted by: Politics 101 on October 26, 2018  8:45am

[Looks at watch]

While I wait, here’s a redlining map that I suggest you look at side-by-side with a map of New Haven’s K-8 school zones.

[I am aware that no such NHPS map is readily available. Many of you, however, are generally aware of what those maps look like and will have to make the side-by-side comparison in your mind.]

posted by: Teachergal on November 1, 2018  3:45pm

So, MM ditches NH until the coveted position opens up and then cinches the job. Love to know the details of this smooth move. I actually have my ideas considering I am very knowledgeable about the players. I’m sure this job was promised to her many years ago. Open your eyes NHPS. 😝

posted by: 1644 on November 1, 2018  7:45pm

Politics;  BTW, Gethings salary at Sliney, with about 350 students was $146K, a touch less than she is getting at Hooker, with almost 450 students, but an assistant principal to share the load (?).