2009-12-03 / Front Page

NKHS principal suspended

By Eileen M. Daly

North Kingstown High School Principal Gerald Foley was suspended indefinitely last Wednesday afternoon by Superintendent Philip Thornton. The suspension followed Tuesday night’s school committee meeting, during which Thornton recommended – and the school committee approved – the non-renewal of Foley’s contract in 2010.

According to a mass e-mail sent out by the superintendent Monday morning, the suspension involved events that transpired earlier that day and was not related to the non-renewal action.

Foley’s difficulties began Tuesday evening when Thornton presented the school committee with a list of reasons not to renew Foley’s contract in 2010. In his email, Thornton characterized this recommendation as directly related to job performance.

“I understand that Mr. Foley has an excellent relationship with the students of North Kingstown High School and our school community and that is something that I appreciate very much. I took this action of non-renewal in response to other factors in his job performance which I discussed at last Tuesday’s school committee meeting,” Thornton said.

But Thornton was clear that the recommendation not to renew, and the subsequent suspension, were based on entirely different considerations.

During Tuesday’s school committee meeting, Thornton presented his concerns regarding Foley’s job performance. Among these was the alleged failure by Foley to respond to R.I. Dept. of Education mandates regarding education.

“In January of 2008, the R.I. Department of Education outlined several areas that needed to be addressed at the high school level in order to meet proficiency-based graduation requirements in 2012. This is, essentially, a multi-year plan that needs to be followed so that all students reach proficiency in 2012,” Thornton said.

As Thornton began to review these areas, he said, it became apparent that Foley had not addressed any of them.

Among the key areas that needed to be addressed are grade span expectations and gap analysis, he said. Thornton explained that all high school courses need to be matched to the GSEs set forth by the Dept. of Education to insure that students are learning what they need to be learning in each course. A gap analysis is then supposed to be done to identify and correct any areas of deficiency.

As of July 2009, Thornton said, Foley allegedly had not done anything to meet these requirements. Phil Auger was then appointed assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, and work began to address these outstanding concerns, he said.

Thornton also said that Foley allegedly failed to communicate adequately with parents and teachers, as was evidenced by his failure to respond to e-mails and phone calls in a timely manner. While issues related to the recent audit were of some concern, Thornton said, these concerns were not the primary factor behind his recommendation.

“I am hired by North Kingstown to be an educational leader and move the district forward in teaching and education, and I am laser – focused on moving forward. I do so knowing full well that some of my decisions will not be popular, but they will be in the best interest of teaching and learning,” Thornton said.

Following Tuesday’s presentation, the school committee approved the non-renewal by a 4-3 vote with committee members Larry Cerisi, Lynda Avanzato, Richard Welch and April Brunelle voting in favor, and Kimberly Page, Doug Roth and Melvoid Benson voting against the recommendation.

Roth, who has frequently been at odds with other members of the committee, opposed Thornton’s recommendation and released a statement asking for an immediate performance review of the superintendent.

“It was what it was – a political witch hunt. A purge of administrators that are perceived to be identifi ed with the former administration. Brass knuckles, retributive politics at their worst,” Roth said.

Committee member Kimberly Page, who also voted against Thornton’s recommendation, objected to what she believed to be errors of policy.

“There are policies and a process that ought to have been followed,” she said. “If an employee is not doing their job, then there should be written documentation of that and the employee should be given an opportunity to improve.”

Page also objected to the public nature of the accusations against Foley, calling them “an embarrassment,” and adding, “This did not have to be done publicly.”

Thornton responded by saying that he had, in fact, evaluated Foley in writing, along with the other nine principals in the district.

“I completed Mr. Foley’s evaluation in July and sent it to him on July 23, along with a request to schedule an appointment to review the evaluation and set goals for the following year. Mr. Foley did not come in to review his evaluation despite being notified twice, once in writing and once by phone,” Thornton said.

As for the public nature of the conflict, “Mr. Foley requested an open public meeting,” Thornton said.

Melvoid Benson, the only other dissenting committee member, based her dissent on what she called a lack of information.

“I could not buy into this 100% because I have never read this evaluation. I did receive a phone call, but I have not received any written information from the offi ce,” she said. “Until I get written information from the office, I’d rather not comment.”

All of the committee members who voted for the non-renewal expressed concern for Foley and acknowledged the difficulty of making this decision.

Welch said the decision was made “with a lot of concern for Mr. Foley, our students and staff by all members of the school committee.”

Welch also acknowledged Foley’s popularity among the students, but said that popularity should not play a role in this decision.

“Many have voiced their affection for Mr. Foley and that is understandable, but this is not about personality, but about what is right and correct for our students and our school,” he said.

Avanzato called the decision “personally painful for every school committee member,” and said there needs to be more accountability in education as a necessary component of progress.

“We need to keep the focus on education and learning. These RIDE standards are now several years old and we now need to make up for lost time. RIDE has been clear about what we need to do. We have parents that are upset about NECAP scores, educational achievement and progress. We would be completely irresponsible if we didn’t address those concerns,” she said.

Brunelle also called the process “painful and difficult,” but held Foley accountable.

“Mr. Foley dropped the ball,” she said. “He did not follow the mandates that were sent to him by RIDE. He did not comply.”

Committee Chairman Cerisi focused on the roles of the superintendent and the school committee.

“We asked him to be the educational leader of this district and to not only meet, but exceed the standards. He is telling the school committee what needs to be done to accomplish this. Regardless of personality, he has stated that he cannot accomplish these goals with the current principal. I think the school committee should not interfere with educational recommendations. We need to allow the paid educational experts to do the job they have spent their entire adult lives doing,” he said.

Following Tuesday night’s meeting, Foley was to continue to fulfill his role as principal, according to his contract, until the end of this school year. On Wednesday morning, however, Foley allegedly sent out an e-mail via Listserv. In this e-mail, titled “Round Two,” Foley allegedly defended his position and announced that he had sued the school committee and the superintendent, adding that he was “coming after them.” According to a number of sources that received the e-mail, allegedly sent during school hours, Foley’s suspension occurred immediately thereafter.

On Monday morning, Superintendent Thornton appointed James DiPrete, a long-time administrator, to serve as interim principal.

Gerald Foley could not be reached for comment.

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