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Shutesbury forum on school principal's professionalism draws crowd of parents

SHUTESBURY — Concerns about perceived lack of communication from the Shutesbury Elementary School principal following troubling incidents on school buses drew approximately 50 parents to a forum Monday held by Union 28 Superintendent Robert Mahler.

The forum was organized by Mahler, who was school principal until July 1, in response to a number of concerns that parents have been raising about the professionalism and suitability of Maureen Ryan as the school’s top administrator. The parents first brought the issues up at the Oct. 17 School Committee meeting, at which Mahler was present. Ryan did not attend Monday’s forum.

Some parents shared stories of encounters and experiences they’d had with Ryan, which included how she handled a number of incidents that occurred on the town’s school buses. One involved a student who attempted to bring a pocket knife to school, and one student allegedly bit another in a second incident.

One parent, who refused to give her name, said she had contacted Ryan after the incident with the knife on the bus because none of the fifth- and sixth-grade parents were told about it until after the student’s suspension had ended. She said letters were sent home to about eight of the students involved, but that none of the other parents were informed and that by then the entire class knew about it.

Mahler agreed that the district “had not done as good of a job addressing that issue as they should have.”

Other parents expressed their displeasure with what they described as Ryan’s lack of interest in getting to know the children and their parents. Some described receiving curt, dismissive responses to email questions and concerns they had sent to the principal.

Some of the parents came to Ryan’s defense, however, noting that Ryan is still new and needs time to get used to the job — a view that Mahler agreed with.

“We came here to Shutesbury because of this school,” said Oliver Waldman, who moved to town from Oregon. “She’s just been defensive, but I haven’t met a bad person in her.”

“I was concerned about how my child was being treated on the bus, so I contacted Maureen and she resolved it within a half-hour,” said another parent, who would not give her name. She added that she was concerned about how the community had welcomed Ryan thus far, and that she could not imagine not allowing her at least a year in the position.

“My hope is that we can show some compassion,” Angela Regin said. “She just needs time to get to know how we do things. Everybody needs to take a step back and realize that she is just one person who has never been here before.”

Another parent, Kristin Lee, said she thought showing compassion should not override the concern for the basic professionalism she expects to see from the principal.

In response to the concerns, Mahler urged the parents to allow Ryan more time to become acclimated.

“There’s 500-plus people in the school. No matter how many times we introduce ourselves, it just takes time,” he said. “I’ve been talking with her about ways to create those opportunities to meet people, but we just need to give her more time.”

Ryan took over as the school’s principal on July 1 when Mahler retired from the position after seven years. Previously, she held the position of associate principal of Newton School in Greenfield. Mahler was later named interim superintendent for the Union 28 school district.

According to Mahler, Ryan has been working with a mentor in Northampton to work on developing her skills as a principal. Some of the parents recommended to Mahler that he should act as a mediator between Ryan and themselves to work out the issues.

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