JAY — It was announced Thursday afternoon that administrative leadership changes at several district schools would be rescinded after some Regional School Unit 73 officials met behind closed doors Wednesday, Jan. 2.

TJ Plourde was removed as principal of Spruce Mountain High School on Dec. 21.

On Dec. 24, Superintendent Todd LeRoy said by email Plourde’s removal was part of a plan to transform two schools, the middle and high schools, into one school, a secondary school. Primary school principal Kevin Harrington would become principal of the secondary school and middle school principal Scott Albert would move to the primary school.

Emails were sent to middle and high school staff during the break by Harrington. They said in part, “Starting Jan. 2, SM Secondary School (6-12) will begin its journey. We’ll use our Jan. 2 Late Arrival time to discuss the logistics of a 6-12 facility and consider suggestions for our collective success. We’ve added a SM Secondary School staff option when sending email to staff from grades 6-12. The website will be modified to a single secondary school website.”

A special school board meeting called for Jan. 2 was cancelled that afternoon on the advice of the district’s legal counsel. Instead, board Chairman Denise Rodzen, Vice Chairman Michael Morrill and LeRoy met with counsel.

Several students and parents were at the superintendent’s office. Parents spoke with school officials following the two-hour meeting, and some contacted the newspaper to express their concerns.

Linda Flagg said she asked LeRoy about Plourde and the changes at the schools. She said he told her he was misquoted in the Sun Journal article and that Plourde was on administrative leave. When she asked if Harrington was doing things on his own, LeRoy gave no comment.

Flagg said, “TJ has been directly affected. Kevin Harrington has been set up to fail. It’s not within his legal grounds to do this.

“How much is this going to cost us? How much in tax dollars were spent last night?”

LeRoy sent Flagg an email later Thursday that said in part, “The misquote was that the paper said I was on vacation. I was not. I am selling a home in Florida and had to pack up and move our belongings and I also had to move my parents from the house to a different condo, all while helping my mother with my father who was in a car accident and was unable to care for himself. I am not sure, but this does not sound like a vacation to me. I did say I was traveling. The misunderstanding had to do with consolidation. I was writing this while under a great deal of stress to be with my parents and pack up a house, and what I wrote was confusing. There was never any intent to consolidate the middle and high school. My hope was we could bring the staffs from both buildings together (consolidate) to better utilize their services to offer students more opportunities.”

Tina St. Laurent said she had expressed concerns to LeRoy about her children’s safety based on previous experiences at the primary school. LeRoy sent copies of her emails to Harrington, who isn’t supposed to know where her children are being schooled.

St. Laurent has spoken with several state agencies regarding the situation and asked that they investigate.

“I was told notice has to be given of a change. It can’t be done in the middle of a school year,” St. Laurent said.

Nevada Daigle said she has a son at the middle school. Her daughter is a senior.

“They’re disrupting how things work. I’m concerned with the safety of the kids. My son was told the principal will be at the high school and middle school students will have to go there to see him.

“The guidance counselors are moving to the middle school. If seniors need help with college or scholarship applications they will have to go there.

“I’ve been saying for years that this school system is awesome. Now this. My husband and I are talking about school alternatives,” Daigle said.

A Facebook page, Bring TJ Back, was established shortly after he was removed as principal. Numerous posts were also found on Flagg’s Facebook page, which is under the name Linda Reynolds.

Students, parents and community members also reached out to this reporter in support of Plourde or opposition to the transformation plan.

Robert Fowler, a junior, said TJ Plourde brought him to a place where he could get help after he had to leave home at 16.

” TJ went out of his way to find me the nearest bus stop. He wanted me to stay at Spruce. He’s really attentive and cares about his students,” Fowler said.

Matt Gilbert of Jay has had three children in the district. He is a principal in another district.

“TJ has been very helpful. He provides a safe environment for the kids. I want to make sure he’s not treated unfairly,” Gilbert said.

Dawn Corley of Jay moved to the area in part because of having met Plourde. Both of her sons had trouble in Massachusetts schools but nothing was done about the bullying and abuse.

“I was extremely comfortable and thrilled with how TJ talked with me. My son was failing English last year. TJ gave him chances to get caught up. My son was bored in class. TJ had him tested and moved him to some honors classes.

“TJ made sure my son was safe and heard at Spruce. Now he’s devastated and afraid.

“As a parent, I’m concerned. Coming from a larger school system, merging the schools is a huge mistake.”

Another Jay resident wished to remain anonymous. He said TJ is not a “yes man” and was railroaded.

“TJ is the best resource for these kids,” he said.

Attempts to speak with LeRoy or Harrington Thursday to verify Plourde’s reinstatement were not successful.

Thursday evening, Nathan Harnden president of the district’s education committee said LeRoy confirmed to him Thursday that Plourde will resume his duties Jan. 7. A journalist from the Maine Education Association will attend the Jan. 10 school board meeting.

“There’s been a lot of unanswered questions on the reasoning behind the transformation process, the disruption that resulted and how it happened. We hope to get answers at the next school board meeting,” Harnden said.

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Editor’s note: Nathan Harnden, president of the Spruce Mountain Education Committee, is the ex-husband of the writer of this story.

 

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