St. Mary's schools changes protested Teachers, two boards say shift in power is needless, drastic

May 08, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An abrupt change in the power structure of St. Mary's schools in Annapolis this week provoked protests from teachers and school board members who contend the changes are too drastic and bad for the school.

Many teachers, who have not signed contracts for next year and fear for their jobs if their names are used, charged that the changes are part of a power play by the parish pastor, Tom Siconolfi.

Siconolfi, who denied a power play, told faculty members from both schools -- St. Mary's Elementary and St. Mary's High -- on Wednesday that he has created a board of trustees to oversee them and that the individual school boards will be combined into one panel.

In announcing the changes, Siconolfi spoke of "returning to the schools' vision."

But teachers and board members were furious.

"We are 100 percent opposed to these changes," said one teacher. "We are doing a great job. If something's not broken, why fix it?"

Said Judy Robison, technology coordinator for the high school and a religion teacher there for 17 years, "They're killing the fly by bombing the house."

And Nancy Duden, president of the high school board, said, "We were not consulted, and we feel blindsided by this."

Until now, each school had a principal and a school board of about a dozen members. The high school also had a president, Jim Moorhead, who functioned as a headmaster. The pastor had ultimate authority over both schools.

Under the new plan, a director of schools will have authority over the principals of both schools and answer to a seven-member board of trustees. The director of schools has not been hired, but Siconolfi chose the trustees before he announced the changes.

The new role of Moorhead, a nationally recognized lacrosse coach with a lengthy career at St. Mary's, is unclear. Neither he nor Siconolfi would discuss the specifics of his future with the parish schools yesterday.

"It can seem that someone's power is being taken away or someone's losing power, but that's not really it," Siconolfi said. "I would hope no one would be purged."

St. Mary's schools have about 950 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade and 550 in the high school. The parish is the third largest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Siconolfi said the changes will help the two schools work together better and eliminate some redundancies.

For instance, he said, students in the last year of elementary school -- eighth grade at St. Mary's -- and those in the first year of high school are required to read, "To Kill a Mockingbird." The students read the book two years in a row if they attend both St. Mary's schools.

The trustees would eliminate that, he said.

Opposition to the changes is far from unanimous.

"I think the idea of someone overseeing both schools -- one who is not connected to either school -- is a good idea," said Loretta Shriner, president of the elementary school's Home School Association, the parochial school equivalent of the PTA.

Karen Cook, whose sons attend fourth and first grades at St. Mary's, also favors the changes.

"Father Tom is a visionary," Cook said. "I think the schools are probably just going through some growing pains."

The teachers have the support of the high school's board, which meets today to discuss the situation.

Opponents of the new structure plan an open meeting Wednesday. The time and place will be announced early next week.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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