Although a handful of East End schools have experienced various degrees of administrative turmoil in the last academic year, the Springs School community was unprepared for the chaos last week when both its principal and assistant principal went missing.
Eric Casale, the principal, was whisked away to Southampton Hospital by ambulance last Thursday morning, after reportedly complaining of chest pains. Dominic Mucci, the district superintendent, who serves on a part-time basis, confirmed this week that Mr. Casale is now on sick leave, but said he hoped the principal would be able to return sometime next week. It was “up to his doctor to decide this,” Mr. Mucci said. Attempts to reach Mr. Casale were not returned.
Adding to the confusion, Mr. Casale’s emergency departure occurred one day after what turned out to be the assistant principal’s, Katherine Byrnes’s, last day at the school. This came as a shock to parents, with many describing her exit as urgent and abrupt.
At an unannounced special meeting of the Springs School Board yesterday, which convened at 7:30 a.m., the board accepted her resignation unanimously. No members of the public were present.
Dr. Byrnes, who was hired for a three-year probationary period in August and paid a salary of $120,000, not including benefits, oversaw special education, managed issues related to discipline, evaluated teachers, and was tasked with reporting such data to New York State officials. She had previously been an elementary assistant principal at North Shore Schools in Sea Cliff.
According to a North Shore human resources official, Dr. Byrnes had been hired on Aug. 16, 2010, and left the district on June 30, 2012. According to school officials, about 28 special education students have been in a self-contained classroom there this year. The 2013-14 budget for special education, for students from kindergarten through high school, is estimated at $2.5 million.
“I can’t comment at all. I resigned for personal reasons,” said Dr. Byrnes, when reached by telephone earlier this week. She declined to comment further.
Mr. Mucci similarly declined to discuss the specifics of Dr. Byrnes’s sudden departure. Her resignation will be effective on May 31, and she will remain on the district’s payroll until then.
“Oftentimes decisions that are made are not popular decisions. They may cause a lot of speculation and a lot of concern and confusion,” Mr. Mucci said. “What adds to that concern and confusion is that there are privacy issues at hand and that makes it tougher for the community to understand the whole issue.”
While Mr. Mucci has repeatedly updated parents concerning Mr. Casale’s whereabouts, until yesterday the school had not announced any details concerning Dr. Byrnes’s departure the previous week.
An e-mail sent to parents last Thursday night apparently added to the confusion. Although it made no mention of Dr. Byrnes, it introduced Louis Aiello to parents, explaining that he would assume many of her duties. In the e-mail, Mr. Mucci wrote that Mr. Aiello “will be joining me in providing service and support to our staff and student body.” Subsequently, rumors and accusations ran rampant.
Finally, at 8:53 a.m. yesterday, following the board’s vote, Mr. Mucci announced Dr. Byrnes’s resignation in another e-mail to parents. He also said he had rearranged his schedule “to be in the district daily until Mr. Casale’s return,” further indicating that Mr. Aiello, a part-time hire, would oversee the special education program.
Mr. Aiello is known in Springs, having served as interim director of pupil personnel services and special education during the 2001-2002 school year. He also is the chair of the Southampton School District’s interim committee on special education.
But for some parents, the e-mail was too little, too late.
“I wish a letter would have gone out sooner,” said Pat Brabant, a father of four children at the school. “Parents are confused, rumors are flying around, and no one knows what’s going on.”
“As parents, it’s unsettling that we haven’t heard any communication,” said Adam Wilson, a Springs school board candidate whose son is in the eighth grade. Page Stewart, whose son is also in the eighth grade, was similarly confounded.
“The lights are on, but nobody’s there,” Ms. Stewart said. She added that she had become incensed after calling the school and was unable to reach anyone, instead hearing an outdated message saying the school was closed due to Hurricane Sandy.
“It represents the school in a nutshell, given all of the misconduct and lack of professionalism,” Ms. Stewart said. “We don’t have an assistant principal. She’s missing in action, and our principal went to the hospital last week, and there’s been no word on him, either.”
In a prepared statement, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, the board president, offered the following: “We wish Dr. Byrnes much success in her future endeavors. We will be hiring a new assistant principal for the 2013-14 school year. We are confident that we will have the position filled by Aug. 1, 2013.”
When reached prior to Wednesday morning’s meeting, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez refused to comment further, citing issues related to matters of personnel, and saying that on the advice of the school’s attorney, her lips were sealed.
Meanwhile, questions remain.