No other choice in Swampscott

Having had time to digest the decision by Swampscott superintendent of schools Pamela Angelakis to not renew the contract of Stanley School principal Shannon Daniels, we come to the conclusion that Angelakis made a decision that is right for the school, the district and the community.

The principal made headlines when she announced Feb. 6 that she is transgender. Angelakis immediately expressed support for Daniels, noting the principal’s “courage, honesty and transparency” in a letter to the Stanley community.

It is reasonable to wonder what changed in the 34 days between that communication and the letter Angelakis sent to Daniels on March 12, announcing the non-renewal of the contract. Angelakis understandably did not publicly offer the reasons for her decision, citing the fact that it is a personnel matter and a desire to respect Daniels’ privacy — which strikes us as ironic —  may have been of greater concern to the superintendent than Daniels herself.

Daniels’ announcement, first reported by The Item’s Gayla Cawley, predictably drew widespread media attention. Parents were not happy to be dodging cameras and microphone-wielding reporters as they walked their children up the hill to the Whitman Road school. They had reason to believe, though, that the TV trucks would soon move on to the next sensational story, unless they were given reason to linger.

That’s exactly what Daniels gave them when she held a de facto press conference outside the school the day after her letter became public. When Angelakis, clearly perturbed that Daniels was feeding the frenzy, instructed Daniels to no longer conduct interviews on school grounds, Daniels complied with only the letter — and not the spirit — of that mandate by simply holding court two doors down.

Angelakis enlisted the aid of Jeff Perrotti, director of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Safe Schools Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students. They discussed with Daniels the importance of giving parents a chance to ask questions and obtain advice on how to present this information to their pre-teen children. Daniels concurred, and an information night for Stanley parents only was scheduled for Feb. 12. Two Swampscott police officers and three school district staff were charged with ensuring non-Stanley parents — including parents from other Swampscott schools — were respectfully turned away. (The Item and other local media outlets also respected the request for a private meeting.)

After a story in The Boston Globe included a first-hand account of the meeting from a reporter who had somehow gained access, the TV trucks were back to greet students and parents returning from February vacation. Parents were fuming. Anticipating such fallout, Angelakis had already placed Daniels on paid administrative leave.

More than one Stanley parent has asked why Daniels’ announcement couldn’t have waited until the end of the school year, thereby giving families an entire summer to process the news and discuss it meaningfully and thoughtfully. Instead, parents were effectively given only a matter of hours to talk with their children before it was time to send them to school the following day.

To be clear, Daniels’ decision is obviously deeply personal and one she had every right to make. But the fact is, her occupation did complicate matters exponentially. That is no one’s fault, but it is reality.

Angelakis has chosen her words carefully and thoughtfully throughout this ordeal. She has at times felt the wrath of parents, some of whom subsequently came to the realization that their anger was perhaps misplaced. It is clear to us that the superintendent entered the process mindful of the need to balance Daniels’ right to personal expression with the needs and emotional well-being of Stanley’s 300 students. She has yet to comment publicly on the situation, opting only to share the communications she has sent to parents.

Stanley parents have been somewhat less reticent, delivering to the School Committee in mid-February a letter expressing their lack of confidence in Daniels’ ability to lead the school. While that letter has not been made public, it has been reported that the parents based their concerns on Daniels performance as principal prior to Feb. 6.

Parents have every right to expect that their children be educated in a positive learning environment, free from outside distractions. While no one would accuse Daniels of intending to create a negative diversion, that is what occurred as the result of her ill-timed announcement and subsequent actions.

Angelakis was faced with a March 15 deadline of informing Daniels if her contract, which runs through June 30, would not be renewed, otherwise the contract would have automatically been extended by one year. Perhaps the superintendent would have preferred to have more time to contemplate, but that was not an option.

Angelakis made a decision that could not have been easy and may result in litigation. That is even more reason to applaud her for acting in a manner she felt was in the best interest of students and families, mindful of the potential fallout, but not submissive to it.

We can all join Angelakis in wishing Daniels the best moving forward, while realizing that Stanley School will best accomplish the same with new leadership.

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