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Massena building principals ask for change in district leadership

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MASSENA - Building principals in the Massena Central School District have reportedly sent a letter to members of the board of education, as well as the two new members who will take their seats in July, asking them to “intervene to right our ship.”

The letter was sent by U.S. Postal Service and received by board members this week. The signatories included principals from every Massena Central School - Massena High School Principal Patrick Farrand, J.W. Leary Junior High Principal Jesse Coburn, Jefferson Elementary Principal Duane Richards, Madison Elementary Principal Alan Oliver and Nightengale Elementary Principal Shannon Jordan.

Massena resident Robin M. Wolpin asked board of education members during Thursday night’s meeting if they had received the letter. She, however, received no response.

“It’s a yes or no question,” Ms. Wolpin said.

With no response, incoming board member Loren Fountaine, sitting in the audience, acknowledged that he had received his copy.

“I got one,” he said.

The principals did not return phone calls about the letter, but sources familiar with the issue confirmed its veracity.

The letter says that the district’s building leaders “are concerned for the school district and the education of its children.

“For some time we have observed changes in the district that have caused strife, well beyond current fiscal challenges,” they wrote. “While we have maintained a positive attitude, despite our best efforts the school district work environment has eroded the social capital accumulated over many years.”

The suggested that faculty and staff members “have voiced disgust with how the district is operating and the direction it is going in. Still, the majority has remained publicly silent out of fear of retaliation. That shared fear has kept us silent thus far, though we realize our primary professional responsibility lies in educating the children of Massena.”

Now, the principals said, “We can no longer disregard our role as educational leaders and our responsibility to the community and its children. The deterioration is now having a detrimental effect on our learning communities. Further, our ability to be effective educational leaders and ensure student learning is compromised.”

Because of their concerns, they said they “respectfully request the Board act to effectuate change.

“We recognize that leadership starts at the top, and we urge the board to intervene to right our ship. Without its help, the District will continue to flounder until it drowns in a sea of discontent,” the principals said.

“Should you wish to further explore our concerns, we are collectively available to discuss them with the Board of Education,” they wrote.

Counselor Erin Covell also spoke during the public comment period concerning a complaint that had been filed by her union for harassment, but not acted on.

Ms. Covell said a letter had been sent to the board of education by attorney Phillip G. Steck, a Syracuse-based attorney representing the Massena Federation of Teachers, recounting 29 instances of harassment, “a violation of First Amendment rights.”

She said, although the board’s policy required a prompt and thorough review of the complaints, none had yet been addressed.

Ms. Covell suggested the district was spending “more resources defending allegations than meeting with people who come forward,” and she wanted to know, “When can we expect the investigation process to start?”

She also asked what the process would look like, who would conduct the investigation and how individuals would be contacted, but received no response from board members.

She said, according to the policy adopted by the board of education, “Any employee who believes that he/she has been subjected to ... harassment shall report all incidents of such conduct to the district’s designated complaint officer through informal and/or formal complaint procedures developed by the district. In the event that the complaint officer is the offender, the complainant shall report his/her complaint to the next level of supervisory authority.”

Once the complaint is received, “the district will conduct a thorough investigation of the charges. However, if the district has knowledge of or has reason to know of any alleged ... harassment, the district is obligated, even in the absence of a complaint, to investigate such conduct promptly and thoroughly. Based upon the results of the district’s investigation, immediate corrective action will be taken, up to and including termination of the offender’s employment in accordance with contractual and legal guidelines,” according to the policy.

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