Windham High School may have to trade its current principal for a state school improvement grant. File photo
Editor’s note: Windham has applied for a three-year, $2.4 million school improvement state grant that would infuse much needed support into the town’s struggling school system.
This grant would benefit Windham High School, specifically. Such funding is especially important in light of voters rejecting the town’s education budget at two referendums, to date.
However, the grant comes with certain stipulations, including letting the current high school principal go, apparently as a “house cleaning” measure. The grant also allows the town to request a waiver of this requirement if the principal has been in his/her position for less than two years.
The Windham Board of Education is currently waiting to hear from Windham Superintendent Ana Ortiz as to whether she wants to seek the waiver and keep current principal Stephen Merlino… or not. Merlino was WHS assistant principal for eight years before being appointed as principal in fall of 2010. Below are Letters to the Editor concerning this controversy.
To the Editor
For decades, Windham teachers and administrators like Stephen Merlino have valiantly tried to compensate for the ever-deteriorating economic situation of a large number of their students.
Unfortunately, those children who are failing standardized tests are doing so, in part, because their parents, struggling themselves to keep their heads above water, are simply unable to give their children the academic support they so desperately need. On the other hand, those children who have parents who are able to support them in their academic efforts, regardless of race or ethnicity, do very well.
The bottom line is, try as they may, even the best teachers and administrators such as Merlino can never replace a supportive and healthy home life, where the love for books, reading and learning in general is developed years before a child enters a school building.
Windham teachers and administrators need all the help they can get in helping their students in need, and, I’m sure, those teachers and administrators will welcome the state’s help with open arms, but the very LAST thing they need is to be made out to be the scapegoat.
So, on behalf of my two Windham High alumni, Emily and Jessie, I’d like to give all you Windham teachers and administrators, especially Merlino, a great big thank you for a job very well done. And to Superintendent Ana Ortiz, who, apparently has the authority to seek a waiver that would allow Merlino to stay on as principal, I have this simple advice – please exercise that authority. Now more than ever, WHS needs Merlino.
Dave Kohn – Columbia
To the Editor
I write this letter in support of one of our finest civil servants in Windham, Stephen Merlino.
Merlino has been the principal at Windham High School since the beginning of the 2010 academic year. During his short tenure, the high school has improved significantly in a climate of cooperation and renewed commitment to our children.
Merlino has always been fully engaged in our community, working tirelessly with strong and active faith in a better future for Windham. He has earned the respect and admiration of his neighbors and co-workers and it is with a sense of disbelief and dismay that I have learned about the possibility of his departure from the school.
At a time of crisis when we need strong leadership, Merlino, with lifelong roots in our community, is a pillar whose energy, passion and strength this community cannot afford to lose.
He is someone we can proudly call our own. I urge Superintendent Ana Ortiz to request a waiver of the federal grant [requirement to remove the principal] to avoid this irreparable loss to Windham.
In doing so, Ortiz would send a resolute signal to our town that she will fight for us and do what is right for her staff and our children.
Luis Perez – Willimantic
To the Editor
I am absolutely bewildered by an education “improvement” plan that demands the dismissal of an extremely competent and caring high school principal. This is not improvement by any stretch of the mind.
Having been in education for almost 40 years, I worked with many principals. Some were good, some were adequate, but only rarely is the school treated to exceptional leadership.
What distinguishes real leadership is the ability to inspire the faculty, earn the trust of the students and gain community respect. Here in Windham, two examples of such a principal are the late Don Berkowitz and Steve Merlino.
A real plan to improve education, and we surely need a plan here, is developed thoughtfully and with input from faculty, staff and students. The first step would be for the Windham Board of Education to reverse its decision and reinstate Merlino.
Shirley C. Mustard – Willimantic
To the Editor
I have known Stephen Merlino for more than eight years, first as a former student and now as a professional educator. I am outraged and saddened by the plan to terminate his position as the principal of Windham High School in order to accept the federal SIG money that has been awarded to the school.
Never before have I witnessed such strong leadership, commitment and intelligence that Merlino possesses. As an assistant principal, he poured his heart and soul into making Windham High School, the students, families and the community a better and brighter place.
When administrators have left to seek other positions, Merlino has stayed. When people talk negatively about Windham and its educational future and potential, Merlino has praised the staff and students.
When there has been negative talk about the schools diversity and poverty, Merlino is the one to demonstrate the positives and advantages of having such a wonderful diverse environment. Merlino has been the principal of Windham High School for only one year.
I believe there is a waiver that can be given in this situation that allows a first-year principal to stay in the position and the district can still accept the money. We definitely should pursue this option. It is a complete and utter shame that the district is looking to remove one of the outstanding leaders we have in our school community. It will be an enormous mistake not to keep him with us to help move Windham High School forward at this troubled time.
Molly Desjarlais-Panteleakos – Putnam
Letters originally published in The Chronicle, posted in Windham Today on June 19, 2011 with permission
See related story - “Windham High School principal may lose his job over state grant” Posted June 9, 2011 http://windham.htnp.com/2011/06/09/windham-high-school-principal-may-lose-his-job-over-state-grant/
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