A group of 32 members of the faculty and staff of Norwood Elementary School shared a letter with the Beacon that they crafted in support of their principal, John Gannon, and in protest of the school administration’s decision to not renew his contract at the end of the year.
“We are a group of veteran professionals who are putting our names and reputations behind Mr. Gannon. We do not do so lightly,” the letter reads in its closing remarks. “The faculty and staff are united with the parents of Norwood in our support of Principal John Gannon. We respectfully ask you to carefully reconsider the administration's recommendation for the non-renewal of Principal Gannon's contract.”
The letter bases its support for Gannon on their assertion that he has demonstrated superb leadership throughout his tenure at the school (he has been in the Warwick school district for seven years and at Norwood for four of those), and utilized the classic educational model, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, to illustrate this belief.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creates a framework for human need, starting with the bottom most essential foundation of physiological needs (like hunger and thirst) and rising up four more levels all the way to the peak of proper self-actualization or, effectively, their full potential.
The group argued that, in the midst of a year where the school had no student guidance counselor or psychologist on staff, Gannon stepped in to try to provide emotional support to students who needed it.
“Without his willingness to assume those roles, we are certain that our children would have become even more at-risk,” the letter reads.
They also heralded him for his reaction last year to Norwood’s malfunctioning fire alarm system, which eventually resulted in an incident where smoke began to fill the school from a malfunctioning heating unit. The group said Gannon quickly called the fire department, got the students, faculty and staff evacuated from the building and personally helped the fire department clear the building, and immediately sent correspondence out to parents letting them know what had happened.
“As the leader of Norwood School, Mr. Gannon understood his role of principal to be as a disseminator or information and as a facilitator of communications for faculty, staff, students, families, and administration,” the letter stated. “He balanced these roles seamlessly.”
The group further argued that Gannon had already developed strong bonds with students and faculty at the school. The letter stated that, “when a situation warrants,” Gannon has accompanied children home on their school bus ride and has visited homes of chronically absent children and “promoted their sense of value within the school community.”
“Through his kind and gentle manner, he has developed a level of trust with students who have difficulty trusting anyone,” the letter reads. “Furthermore, he has earned the trust and confidence of the parents in this community and of his faculty and staff, many of whom are losing faith in and have had difficulty collaborating with central administration for a multitude of reasons including ineffective communication.”
Superintendent Thornton declined to comment specifically on why Gannon’s contract is not being renewed, as the administration has a policy against commenting on personnel decisions, but reiterated that the school district is closing two elementary schools (Wickes and Randall Holden) and re-purposing John Brown Francis into a preschool.
However Norwood Elementary isn’t being closed or repurposed as part of that plan. Regardless, Gannon was signed to a one-year contract last July, as was Randall Holden’s principal Sabrina Antonelli, John Brown Francis’s principal David Cluff and Greenwood Elementary School’s Kenneth Rassler.
The group who crafted the letter, likewise, do not understand why Gannon would not be renewed, especially since Norwood isn’t closing as part of the district’s plans for elementary consolidation.
“At present it seems that he is being penalized for putting children first, advocating for the needs of his school, and embodying the traits of an effective leader,” the letter reads. “No one should be placed at a disadvantage for believing in the potential of every child and doing what's right for all children.”
A representative from the group plans to read the letter to the Warwick School Committee during their meeting tonight at Warwick Veterans Junior High. Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teachers’ Union, expressed her support for the teachers on Monday.
“They are the ones in the school,” she said. “As always they have the experience in the school and the administration should also value their opinions.”
Gannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.