Photo by Ryan Mooney
Many of the protesters are less than four feet in height, but they are standing tall against interim Superintendent Herb Levine's decision to transfer McCarthy Elementary Principal Ray Smoyer to the Burke School and Burke Principal Judith McNiff to McCarthy.
More than 75 McCarthy parents and children packed the bleachers in the auditorium at the Peabody Public Schools Administration Building Tuesday to protest the move, leading the school committee to cut short its executive session and abandon the agenda to address the issue before anything else.
"I'm absolutely humbled by all the support...we've worked hard in the last year and a half to really bring the school community together," said Smoyer, who is currently in his second year at McCarthy. "When we talk about our school it's really our school, from community members to parents to kids to teachers...it's a small school and I think it speaks to the value of small schools because you get that tight knit community, and I think that's very valuable to have."
As McCarthy parent Dave DiGianfelice took the microphone to speak on behalf of the crowd, children sat holding signs reading 'Poor Choice 4 McCarthy' and 'Don't Take our Ray of Sunshine Away.'
"Ray is there for our children. He greets them when they come off the bus, and then hustles over to greet the kids being dropped off," DiGianfelice said. "He's in the cafeteria at lunch, and out at recess talking to the children as often as possible. He works tirelessly to gain their trust and build a strong rapport with each of the students.
"Ray in many ways is more than just a leader to the McCarthy children, he is their friend."
Levine would not reveal why he is considering the transfer of principals, which is not final, but is his decision alone to make.
"I certainly love being here [at McCarthy]," Smoyer said in an interview this morning. "I signed a contract with Peabody Public Schools, if they transfer me I'll go and do the best job that I can at the other school , but I'd certainly like to be here, too."
Mayor Edward Bettencourt, Jr. stressed that this is not an early step in closing the McCarthy school, as has been discussed the last two years. The school reopened in 2005 after a long cessation when the Kiley Brothers Memorial School, now the administration building, closed.
"The thing that I'm pushing forward for the most part, as well as all school committee members, is to build a new Higgins Middle School," Bettencourt said. "While that construction and all those decisions are taking place I will not be asking for, I will not be moving in any way, to close any school, McCarthy or otherwise. This decision that is ultimately made is in no way a precursor to closing the McCarthy School."
McCarthy parents feel that their school is targeted year after year - one protester even carried a piece of cardboard with 'McCarthy' written over a target - and that this is just the latest unjust act against the 250-student K-5 institution.
"I've come to realize that there are three certainties every spring: baseball season begins, there's always potential for flooding in Peabody square, and the McCarthy school community will have to stand up and fight for the respect we deserve," DiGianfelice said.
Instability in their children's lives is a major concern for parents. With so much staff turnover and uncertainty over the future of the school for the last three years, they finally feel as though they have taken positive steps under the leadership of Smoyer.
"Ray came to us in a time of instability and uncertainty...over the past three years it has been nothing but a battle, one that we here at the McCarthy believe is still worth fighting," said Tracy Castrichini, who has three children at the school. "Moving him to the Burke School is not the solution to a problem. What is being done is creating a new problem here at the McCarthy. The children of the McCarthy deserve stability in their lives for once."
Levine will address the issue with the public at McCarthy on May 17, at which time he will most likely reveal his final decision.