Mary Ellen Adipietro, whose son Liam attends Shelter Island School, addressed Monday night’s Board of Education (BOE) budget meeting, claiming nepotism in hiring and gossip by staff members.
Some staff members have been overheard in public places, such as Island restaurants, talking about students and parents, Ms. Adipietro said, and in a small town, their gossiping is getting back to the families involved.
Ms. Adipietro said she felt compelled to speak on behalf of parents who have found it necessary to place their children in off-Island schools because of gossip by the school’s staff.
BOE staff members have spoken in the past about declining enrollment numbers and the desire to bring more students studying elsewhere back to Shelter Island School. That’s one reason for the initiative to expand the pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds, hoping that children starting on the Island would stay, Board President Thomas Graffagnino said at Monday’s meeting.
On the topic of nepotism, Ms. Adipietro said there are people on the Island who believe there is too little transparency about school business, especially in hiring.
BOE member Elizabeth Melichar denied nepotism has any role in selecting teachers. She noted that for four open teaching jobs in September, there have been more than 450 applicants. Culling the list down to the best qualified individuals puts candidates through an “arduous” process.
Ms. Adipietro agreed to meet with board members Linda Eklund, Ms. Melichar and Shelter Island Faculty Association President Brian Becker to discuss her concerns further.
It was agreed that the meetings could lead to a survey on the issues that parents could print from the district’s website, fill in and mail back with anonymity ensured. There was also discussion about a “forum” with parents to discuss the problems.
Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott said she feared a forum could expose individual, private issues for students and parents to the wider community.
In an interview after the meeting, Ms. Adipietro said she believed every staff member should have to sign an agreement to maintain confidentiality, similar to doctors and attorneys.
Teachers at the meeting said they were hurt and upset by the accusations. English teacher Lynne Colligan said she was “offended” by the charge of gossiping. Parents need to speak to teachers they believe are at fault, she added. Most teachers — many of whom live and work on Shelter Island — want a dialogue with parents, she said.
“We, who live and work here, put our heart and soul into this,” Ms. Colligan said.
Board member Kathleen Lynch said she was hurt by what she was hearing. There are “phenomenal things going on” in Shelter Island classrooms, Ms. Lynch added, but if some parents are choosing to take their children off-Island, it might be because they’re opting either for a religious education or an interest in a particular style of education offered by a private school.
Although some board members appeared taken aback by what they heard from Ms. Adipietro, all expressed a willingness to take steps to open a dialogue with those who have been afraid to speak out.
Ms. Eklund said anyone who has ever come before the BOE has been treated with “tremendous respect” and she looks forward to a dialogue with parents.