2013-02-15 / Front Page

HS principal leaves school

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — When Jim Holland announced to teachers and staff Thursday, Feb. 7 that he would tender his resignation as South Portland High School principal, he said he received a “rather sustained ovation.”

Holland is resigning from his position less than two years after taking over for longtime principal Jeanne Crocker in August 2011. He said in an interview after the Tuesday, Feb. 12 board of education meeting, “It was clearly my decision,” but comments from Sheryl Kieran, office manager at the high school for nine years, seem to suggest otherwise.

Kieran called Holland’s announcement “sudden and disturbing” to high school staff.

“What’s disturbing is, there’s never been a hint from Jim of anything less than being thrilled to be principal at South Portland High,” Kieran said during public comment.

Kieran pointed out the positive aspects Holland has brought to the high school in a time of disruption as the building renovation continues, and noted he did the best he could in a difficult situation replacing Crocker, who was principal for more than a decade.

“He’s been proud to be part of this school community, so it doesn’t add up that he’s chosen to resign,” she said.

Holland chose not to speak at the meeting, but afterward he had nothing but positive things to say about the students and staff at South Portland High School.

“When I talk to friends and family, I always say (South Portland) is a big town with a small-town feel. That would about sum it up,” he said.

After he described the reaction of teachers and staff when he made the announcement Thursday, Holland paused to wipe away tears and compose his voice.

“Sometimes there are some things that are compelling reasons to think it’s time to move on,” Holland said. “There are a few things that made me feel like it may not be the best fit.”

Asked to describe on what those factors may be if not the students, teachers and staff, Holland declined to elaborate.

Parent and Walnut Street resident Kelly Martin came to the school board meeting looking for answers to what she called “craziness,” but found few. Superintendent Suzanne Godin declined comment, and said she is unable to speak about personnel matters.

Martin said she found out about Holland’s resignation through her daughter, who saw the news on Twitter Friday, Feb. 15, a snow day for South Portland students.

Initially, Martin thought her daughter was confusing Holland with Scarborough High School Principal Dean Auriemma, who also resigned last week, citing family reasons.

Students on Twitter were also surprised by Holland’s resignation and some wondered how the news could break when school was not in session for the day. The news actually became public Thursday afternoon, Feb. 7, when the school department released its meeting agenda materials to the media.

On that agenda, Holland’s name is included with three other resigning staff members: Risa Garland, nurse at Skillin Elementary School; Anne Tewhey, third-grade teacher at Small Elementary Schooll; and Donna Foss, occupational therapist at Kaler Elementary School and the high school.

Godin read the four names of the resigning staff and did not elaborate further when she gave the superintendent’s report at Tuesday’s meeting.

School board member James Gilboy began to ask a question related to Holland’s resignation during the meeting, but the board had moved on to coaching appointments for athletics. Gilboy later said he was unable to comment on the resignation.

“It’s something that we can’t talk in public about because it’s a personnel issue. I was hoping that Mr. Holland was going to speak, but that was his choice not to,” Gilboy said.

“I felt for the parents that came in support of him as well as the office manager,” he added.

Holland’s resignation is effective June 30, Godin said. She did not say how quickly the department hopes to find a replacement, but said, “We will be putting together a timeline in the next few weeks.”

When the new principal does begin, he or she will come in to a challenging situation with an ongoing high school building project and frequent turnover recently at the top position.

“Beyond the personal hurt to Jim, there is a tremendous cost to our community should he leave. Three principals in as many years does not benefit the staff and students,” Kieran said.

She closed her comments by adding, “I would ask that we honestly reflect on how well we have supported and invested in Jim Holland’s success, which is our community’s success.”

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