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Transition Time at Branford's Sliney School as Interim Principal Begins

Published Nov. 30, 2018 • Last Updated 04:46 p.m., Nov. 30, 2018

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November was a time of transition at Branford's John B. Sliney (JBS) Elementary School, as the district settled in an interim principal, bid farewell to former principal Margaret-Mary Gethings, and started a search for a permanent replacement.

Gethings has now returned to New Haven Public Schools, the district she served before joining BPS as Sliney's new principal with the start of the 2015-16 academic year. Gething's last day in the Branford Public Schools district was Nov. 21. During her final week on the job, Gethings was visited at Sliney by her interim replacement, Sharon Weiserman.  On Monday, Nov. 26, Weiserman began her first day of interim leadership at Sliney. She will remain at the helm until the district appoints a permanent replacement.

"I am delighted to be a part of such an active, involved community," said Weiserman, in part, in her greeting to parents in the Dec. 2018 JBS Newsletter.

Weiserman also noted parents will have an opportunity to meet and greet her prior to the start of the Sliney PTA meeting on December 5, which begins at 6:45 p.m.

In the November 2018 JBS Newsletter, Gethings' principal's message to parents ended with a brief note concerning her decision to leave the district.

"My last day at JBS will be Wednesday, Nov. 21," Gethings wrote. "It has been a pleasure being a part of this dynamic community. I treasure my time at JBS!"

At the Nov. 14 BOE meeting, Sliney parent Jennifer Alexander expressed what she termed "profound disappointment" over the departure of Gethings. Alexander said she is joined by other parents from the school in expressing that concern. Noting she has over 20 years of work experience in education at the national and state level, Alexander said Gethings' departure, made within three years of her arrival at JBS, is a loss for the school which will have an impact on its community and culture.

"Stable school leadership matters," Alexander told the BOE.

Additionally, she said personally called Branford Schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez to request notification of the transition plans; and that the notice, a letter to parents from Hernandez dated Nov. 13, was received just five academic calendar days ahead of Gething's departure. Alexander said she felt that timing reflects a "...lack of transparency [and] lack of responsiveness" by the district and the BOE.

Alexander's comments were recorded during the BOE's live-stream video of the Nov. 14 meeting, which can be viewed online here. While the BOE doesn't respond to public comments at its meetings, later on Nov. 14, during a BOE discussion on current business, Hernandez updated board members on the process involved in Weiserman's selection and transition.

"It's a process that [as] you heard this evening, could we have done it probably faster? Upon reflection, probably so, maybe by a day or two. This is such a compressed time to do this, but we have to really and truly vet candidates [and] we had to interview candidates," said Hernandez, who was assisted in the process by Assistant Superintendent Rachel Sexton.

He said the district reached out to the Connecticut Association of Schools to find interim candidates and that he and Sexton met with the JBS staff on Nov. 8 to discuss the process. As for notifying parents late on Nov. 13, Hernandez said Alexander "is correct, we sent out the letter [via] email, using the Alert Now [parent portal] because that's when we actually had information to report."

Hernandez also shared with the BOE that Weiserman was in the district on Nov. 14 and would also spend half a day in the district on Nov. 16 as well as be at the JSB Thanksgiving celebration on Tues. Nov. 20.

In his letter to parents dated Nov. 13, Hernandez expressed confidence in Weiserman.

"She served as the Principal of Doolittle Elementary School in Cheshire, CT for 15 and retired in 2013. Since her retirement, she has served as interim principal in Westbrook and Orange, an executive coach to a newly hired principal, and adjunct supervisor to student teachers. Sharon will ensure our students, staff and parents are supported and that the school continues its exceptional work in making everyone in JBS 'stand tall,'" wrote Hernandez, referring to the school's motto.

Hernandez also noted the district is committed to "...a hiring process that yields a highly qualified and proven effective school leader who complements and enhances our learning community."

According to an anticipated timeline in a hiring brochure shared by the district, hiring for the permanent Sliney principal position was posted Nov. 2, with a Nov. 26 closing date. BOE chairman Michale Krause said BOE member Shannen Sharkey be the board representative for the hiring committee. Hernandez said he had also solicited JSB staff interested in serving on the committee.

"We want to have a broad representation [as] we have a variety of programs in that school," said Hernandez.

The first round of interviews are anticipated to take place Dec. 10, with finalist interviews expected to be Dec. 17. As of press time, the date for the BOE to appoint a permanent principal, and the start date for that appointee, are to be determined.

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