Embattled Northeast Principal Joseph Carducci Jr. emerged from the brick school bearing a slight smile and a conciliatory tone -- for thefirst time since parents launched a campaign for his removal almost four months ago.
Standing in the middle of the school parking lot yesterday, Carducci waved to parents driving away with students.
Yesterday, in his first interview since the ordeal began, Carducci said he was ready to start again.
The dismissal of popular athletic director Bob Grimm last spring prompted parent and student protest.
Many cited Carducci's strong religious beliefs as a major problem, noting that he dismissed Grimm after the veteran teacher refused to reschedule a Good Friday sporting event.
"The school's goals are to address the Maryland School Performance Program, but my personalgoals are to show in no uncertain terms that I am not against the athletic program," Carducci said.
"I want to be more visible. Last year, I was trying to learn the school. It's hard to be everywhere, and that may have been misunderstood as not caring. This year, I will try to be everywhere.
"Our programs are growing and I want all of our programs to be good."
Carducci, who replaced Joseph Cardamone in February, predicted he would be able to gain more parental supporting.
He said he signed up 45 parents for the Parent-Teacher Association and 20 volunteers before school began.
But it may take more than a seeming change of heart to repair the extensive damage at Northeast.
Outspoken parents have claimed their children were singled out by Carducci in the cafeteria as an intimidation tactic.
Many ofthese same parents will have to be convinced his religious beliefs -- specifically those concerning abortion -- will not interfere with his duties. Claims that he was censoring materials to be placed in themedia center also have surfaced.
Carducci denied ever telling teachers and counselors that any pregnant girl considering an abortion should be referred to him for counseling.
Rather, he says, he only wanted to ensure that any girl who became pregnant knew school policyregarding absences and missed classes.
"I've always said that I want to make sure that students know what is available to them in order to remain in school," he said.
"It's a very difficult position for a student to be in and we want to help."
Carducci still must address fallout from Grimm's transfer to Meade. The 24-year veteran teacher and coach has declined to return to the school -- he was offeredhis old job back last week -- even though parents, especially those involved in the Northeast Community Family Group, have repeatedly demanded that he be reinstated.
Some parents complained Carducci was making changes too rapidly. Tension among faculty members peaked whena school secretary was transferred to Broadneck after her husband chaired a meeting of the community group.
Staff members feared transfers would continue to be a tactic used to force compliance.
Dressed in a medium gray suit yesterday, Carducci stared off into the parking lot, by then empty, and admitted that things could have been handled better.
"Hindsight is 20-20," Carducci said. "It was a complicated issue. But I'm trying to look forward. I'm trying to let bygonesbe bygones. I hope that everyone else can do that. I'll certainly beworking toward bridging that gap."
Ed Vinson, a parent and community activist, has been among those demanding change at the school. Though his fourth son graduated from Northeast in the 1970s, he has continued to fight for a voice in the school he still supports.
"I hope things work out for the kids," Vinson said after learning of Carducci's comments. "I'd rather see the kids happy than go through the stuff they are going through.
"I think it reached the point that he realizes that there are some things he should stay away, from like the abortion issue and censorship.
"I feel we have been heard. We had a member of the school board come down to our last meeting, so theyare hearing us also," he said.
The new face being painted at the school yesterday included a protective backdrop. A county police car was positioned in the school parking lot before school was dismissed.Director of Senior High Schools Shirley Hicks was on hand for the start of school.
"I have positive feelings about where the school isheaded," Hicks said. "It's off to a great start."