Parents Criticize Principal's Reassignment
Superintendent Pia Durkin says it would be "very comfortable" for Catherine Zinni to remain at Willett Elementary, but "life is about taking on challenges."
Attleboro parents and school committee members were unable to convince Superintendent Pia Durkin at the meeting Monday night to reverse her decision to transfer Willet Elementary School principal Catherine Zinni to the same post at Thacher Elementary.
Several speakers said the move would derail the progress the school has made under Zinni's leadership. Durkin said this would not happen, and that one person is not responsible for a school's success.
Willet PTO President Laurie Brasil said transferring Zinni would set the school back by at least a year.
"As a volunteer, it is hard enough finding the time to plan and work on an event," Brasil said. "With a new principal, we will have to spend countless hours going over every little thing, instead of the 'same as last year' response that would be given to Ms. Zinni."
School Committee member Barbara Craw sided with the speakers.
"To take [Zinni] from that school and cause this trauma to her students, the parents and her staff is an injustice to the whole district," Craw said. "She has brought Willett to a level where they are being successful. She has put them on the journey toward excellence. For us to pull her out of that school, we're just going to have another school that has to start over again."
School Committee member Brenda Furtado said the panel should make a recommendation to Durkin that Zinni remain at Willett. Mike Tyler, committee chair, said that would be inappropriate because the superintendent appoints principals and a vote by the committee would be an official legislative action, even if it were just a recommendation. He said this could raise legal issues.
No vote was taken, and it is not clear whether the committee would have voted in favor of Zinni remaining at Willett. Most members did not address the issue, and School Committee member David Murphy spoke in favor of the transfer, saying it "has a sound justification to it."
News of Zinni's transfer came to Willett parents via a voice message on Friday. She will fill the void being made by Elaine Sabra, who announced earlier this month she had accepted a position as principal in the Somerset school district, which is closer to her home.
Zinni will be replaced on an interim basis by 20-year Attleboro Public Schools veteran Kate Campbell, who currently works as a literacy coach at Hill-Roberts Elementary.
"She aspires for leadership and she will bring a great value to Willett," said Durkin about Campbell.
Regarding Zinni's departure, Durkin said, "I understand that it's a yin and yang. She's leaving one place, but adding value to the other."
She added, "Ms. Zinni has built, and Ms. Campbell in her own way, the structures and procedures that makes the work move on. There is no one person that creates the work. The staff at both schools own the work and they are the ones whose legacy the success of the school belongs to."
Durkin concluded, "It would be very comfortable for Ms. Zinni to remain at Willett school, at a place she knows and has loved and where she is loved. But life is about taking on challenges and making sure you're able to step up to the plate to do the work you love to do and to bring the greatest contribution to the children."
In her comments following the official announcement of the appointments, Zinni said she was weepy about leaving Willett, but looked forward to her new job.
"At this time, Attleboro needs me to work at Thacher," Zinni said. "So I am moving on, I am just down the road."
Campbell said she believes she has the ability to make a difference at Willett.
"I'm looking forward to continuing the gains Willett has made in the past four years under principal Zinni and I'm excited to bring a piece of myself to the future success of the Willett students and the Willett community."
During their comments, a few speakers noted how frequent the personnel changes have become in a district where six of the nine schools will have new principals in the fall.
Durkin, who has been eyed by a number of people as a reason for the turnover, brushed off the criticism.
"There are valid and significant reasons why individuals have left this district," Durkin said. "I choose not to dwell on them. And I just simply ask that a perspective remain wide as you look at that."