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  principal Catherine Zinni to the same post at .

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, 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 .

"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."

Just sayin' June 19, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Is there any reason to think that Mrs. Zinni does not want to move? Is there any reason that the students at Thatcher should not benefit from her leadership? I'm just trying to figure out the hubbub. Of all the craziness the past few weeks/months this seems relatively minor. Change, yes - but different, not worse. I don't know - someone help me out here.
SD June 21, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Parents are getting out of control..or rather want to be in control. Kudos to all the parents who care about how the schools are managed. We all need to participate in our childrens education by volunteering in classrooms, on PTOs, fundraising, etc. but unless you have a degree in education, I believe you are way out of bounds to believe your wants outway educated decisions. I believe your wants should not circumvent the policies in place. If the superintendent has the autonomy to relocate a principal, who are you to demand anything different? Who are you to urge the school committee too force that when it is clearly out of their scope of authority? I may not agree with alot of their decisions, but they were elected to serve the community as a whole within the guidelines set forth governing them. Parents have a say in this process in as much as we elected these officials. Now it is up to them, as an elected body, to do as they see fit. It seems as though there are several overzealous parents that now want to micromanage the school committee as much as they are micromanaging the superintendent. Please note vocal parents, just because you are more vocal does not mean you are the only parents the SC represents. No decisions will ever satisfy everyone. A good solid school community will survive the transition of a new principal. Give our newcomers a chance or it wont be Dr. Durkin or the school committee scaring good people away, it will be the parents!
A H Johnson June 21, 2012 at 04:23 PM
SD - I can tell you are a supporter of Durkin and not the children. Parents should have a say in their childs schools and education, not just on the side line raising money at bake sales. You should be ashamed of yourself. Parents are the main overseers of what goes on in the schools. All though I would love to say that ever school runs perfectly, I will not lie and we all no the truth, they do not. It is very unfortunate that you get personnell like Durkin who hide the truth, bend and break the rules and does not follow set policy. It is her job to follow policy. Any school system that does not allow the parents to have some say as to how it is being run would be a disaster. We would still be hitting our children with rulers if it was not for parents having some say in their child's school. This is not about your support for Durkin. This is about parents having the right to advocate for their children. These students are our children not the Superintendent's she has no right be the sole person to make decisions for them. Parent's do not want to control the school and never claim that they have the degree in education to run the school system. But these are our children and we will have a say in how they are treated and what is best for them in an educational setting. SD it sound as if you would just send your child off to school and say now your in the hands of the school. I have washed my hands of caring about what happens to you while you are there. How sad.
SD June 22, 2012 at 09:49 PM
You have a right to advocate for your children as do I. I sm s parent with children I our schools and believe Dr. Durkin is sn exemplary leader. If you and I disagree on issues or policy or appointments or curriculum and 20 other parents all have views that differ from either of ours...who's to say who is more correct? Everyone seems to forget that Dr Durkin is in the unenviable position of not being able to satisfy everyone. She makes the beet educated decision she can and while I have disagreed with some of her choices I do respect and support them. That's what I pay her to do.
S Curtis June 25, 2012 at 12:34 AM
We have paid someone to destroy our school system. We should not, and did not sit idly by and let her continue. The voices of the public and teachers where heard and the MAJORITY of the committee voted not to renew her contract. She has not made the best educational decisions for our children, that is why she is being let go from our district.


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