BOE Confronted Over Principal’s Departure

Photo by Sally BahnerAt its Nov. 14 meeting, the Board of Education was confronted again about the lack of transparency in its communications with parents in light of the departure of a popular elementary school principal.

Sliney principal Margaret-Mary Gethings will be leaving for a new position as principal of Worthington Hooker School in New Haven, as reported in the New Haven Independent Oct. 25.

New Haven IndependentAt the Oct. 18 BOE meeting Schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez reported that Gethings was “a finalist for a position in another district. A hiring committee will be put together, that is typically comprised of a Board member, parents, teachers and administrators. There is a prescribed process for the hiring of a successor.”

At that point, the decision was not official, Hernandez said, but Gethings’s staff had been informed.

However, a group of parents raised concerns that the current administration had “driven her out” and that, as of mid-November, no leadership transition plan was in place at Sliney. Gethings was described as “the best principal to be at Sliney in years.”

ScreenshotJennifer Alexander, the parent of two children in Branford Schools, addressed the board at the Nov. 14 meeting, praising the work of Gethings at Sliney. “Mrs. Gethings has had a huge positive impact on the school community and culture,” Alexander wrote in a letter she read to the board. “Her departure after completing only three years, and after the short tenure of her predecessor, is a loss for our school and our town.”

Alexander wrote, “Margaret-Mary’s departure should raise serious alarm bells for this Board of Education that something is wrong. This Board needs to look deeply into why our district leadership has been unable to maintain principal stability at Sliney.” She added that Sliney has not been able to maintain a principal for more than three years and that it takes an average of five years for a principal to be fully effective.

Alexander, who has worked in education for more than 20 years, said that families had not received any correspondence from the district regarding a transition plan with less than a week to go before Gethings’s departure. She emailed Hernandez with her questions and received a response at 5 a.m. the day of the meeting.

Alexander wrote, according to Hernandez’s letter “someone from outside the district, who does not appear know our community, our educators, or our children, will be hired as an interim principal. The letter states that there are plans to work on a transition.” Alexander questioned how such a transition could take place with Gethings’s departure imminent and during a holiday week.

As of press time, we were awaiting a response from Hernandez concerning Gethings’s replacement.

She said the Gethings’s departure was part of a greater problem within the district concerning lack of responsiveness and inadequate communication. She added that parents are reluctant to speak out due to a fear of retribution, belief that the district does not care, and a lack of trust.

As per its policy, the board did not respond to Alexander’s presentation.

Over the past few years, the Board of Education has been criticized for its lack of transparency concerning school safety, bullying, and the treatment of transgender students. There was also an outcry over the switching of Walsh principal Robin Goeler to Murphy School at a critical juncture on the Walsh renovation project and the termination of the “lunch ladies’” contract with Chartwell Food Service.

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