22 Aug 2014
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Letter to the Editor: Loss of High School Principal

Nahant writer Loreen Tirrell reflects on the loss of the high school principal and what's next.

Letter to the Editor: Loss of High School Principal

To the editor:

As with all personal loss, I went through the five states of mourning.  First there was denial- “he isn’t really leaving”; “those other schools must have contacted HIM, he would NEVER want to leave US!”; “the newspaper MUST be mistaken”.  From denial, I entered into the powerful stage of anger- “he is a liar- he said he was here for the long haul”; “how could he do this to the kids? To the community?”; “I hope these schools interviewing him know he promised us he’d stay and he wasn’t good to his word”.  After my anger subsided I moved into bargaining- “what is wrong with the School Committee?  I hope they are begging him back”; “maybe if parents write him letters of support he’ll change his mind”.  Once the bargaining proved fruitless I went right into depression and sadness- “how could this happen to Swampscott again?”; “we will never find another principal like Layne, never”; “my kids future’s are in the balance and I feel powerless”. I have now moved into the final stage: acceptance, but this stage is more complex than it sounds.  Acceptance doesn’t mean accepting only the fact that Layne Millington is leaving Swampscott High School after fewer than three years as principal but it is also acceptance of my part in his leaving.

When I heard that Layne was interviewing, I began to reflect on my dealings with him.  I was fortunate enough to spend his first two years at the school on the School Advisory Council- a collection of faculty, parents and students from the Swampscott High School community that met monthly to discuss school issues.  It was there that I witnessed first-hand his promise that he was in this for the long haul; I believed him.  He was enthusiastic, thoughtful, smart and unbelievably patient.  He took on difficult topics like the chemical health policy, the block schedule, substitute teachers, open campus and junior privilege, to name just a few. No one at the meeting was ever wrong, every idea was worth consideration.  I remember distinctly the discussion surrounding the waterfall schedule.  The school had a block schedule system and Layne was presenting the idea for the waterfall.  He explained in great detail how it worked- how students would have each class five times in seven days allowing more frequent contact with each teacher.  He explained that the waterfall allows each class to take its turn as the first class of the day and the last class of the day.  Parents raised concerns of it being too complicated and intricate; teachers said the union would need to look at it.  Layne then turned to the silent students in the room.  He asked them for their feedback.  A male senior spoke first: he asked “what do all of the top schools use for their schedules?”  Layne, prepared for this question, listed the top five schools in the state and reported that they used some form of the waterfall model.  That was all the student needed: “then we should do it, too.”  That was Layne.  He didn’t preach or push but he was there with the steady hand and the ready answer. He respected the opinions of the faculty, parents and students equally.  As I recall meeting after meeting like the one described here I realize that Layne DID mean it when he said he was here for the long haul; that was his intent.  So what happened?

This is where acceptance comes in.  We all must look at ourselves- the parents, the faculty, the administrators, the school committee, the community- and accept our role in losing Layne Millington.  We each played a part in making it impossible for Layne, a visionary who is kind, patient, smart and high-functioning, to remain as Principal at Swampscott High School.  For my part, I think of the letters I never wrote and the ones maybe I shouldn’t have written; the conversations I didn’t have and the ones I did; the opportunities I missed and the ones I should have let pass.   I think how fortunate Swampscott has been to have three years with this amazing educator who accomplished so much in that short period of time, just think what could have been accomplished had we appreciated and supported him instead of making it impossible for him to stay?  Shame on all of us for allowing that to happen.  I hope the School Committee will take a long, hard look at itself and honestly assess its dealings with Layne.  I hope the faculty, superintendent, students and community will do the same.  We will be hard-pressed to find quality candidates willing to come to the chopping block that is Swampscott High School unless we accept our short comings and commit to changing them.  If we don’t, we will wallow in this repeated pattern of searching for the long-term answer but beating them down so they become another short term casualty.  I truly hope we find a quality candidate who can pick up where Layne will leave off in July and stay with the school system long enough to become part of the community ; I am concerned we will not.

I have no doubt Layne Millington will work for SHS tirelessly and professionally up until midnight on June 30th.  He will then move on to Marblehead High School and they will reap the benefits of his fiscal, educational and human relations talents.  If they’re smart and learn from us, the Marblehead community will rally around this innovative, progressive educator and watch their student performance improve while morale soars.  I wish him the best with his new district and commend Marblehead on making a terrific choice for their high school.  I only hope Swampscott can learn from this and move forward as well.

Loreen Tirrell                                                                              

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