Major Changes Revealed at BOE Meeting

Raymond Manka to be SHS principal, Superintendent Dr. Winifred Hamilton to retire

The fifth floor of the Government Center was packed on Tuesday May 26, as community members attended the Board of Education (BOE) meeting during which Superintendent Winifred Hamilton announced her retirement and current Norwalk High School administrator Raymond Manka was named Stamford High School’s new principal.

Raymond Manka, who will assume the SHS principal position July 1, addresses the crowd at Tuesday night's Board of Education Meeting
Teddy Marantz
Raymond Manka, who will assume the SHS principal position July 1, addresses the crowd at Tuesday night’s Board of Education Meeting

During her report, Superintendent Hamilton announced her plans for retirement. Hamilton said, “Over the past several months, attention [from the students] has been interrupted…and because I believe the children of Stamford deserve undivided attention, I have decided to announce my retirement, effective January 1, 2016.”  Upon announcing her retirement, several community members in attendance applauded, though others later expressed disapproval during the public’s time to address the board.

After Hamilton’s announcement, members of the public had an opportunity to speak.  The primary topics of discussion included the selection of the next principal, the BOE’s and Superintendent’s handling of the matter, the movement to terminate Assistant Principal Angela Thomas-Graves, Michael Rinaldi’s qualifications for the position of SHS principal, and Assistant Superintendent Michael Fernandez’s offer to resign. Over twenty community members spoke, several of whom represented larger groups.

The first to speak was SHS Head of Library Media Jean Isler, who read a petition against the termination of Thomas-Graves signed by almost 140 SHS staff members. Though 97 of the signatures were from teachers, members from every union signed this petition. Others speaking on behalf of Thomas-Graves included former SHS Principal and current Brien McMahon High School Principal Suzanne Brown Koroshetz. She noted that Thomas-Graves, who was in charge of the special education department at SHS, had a position where “the stakes are the highest and the students are most vulnerable” and said that that she goes “above and beyond the call of duty.” She, like others, said that Thomas-Graves “should not be compared ever in the same sentence, and her actions cannot be compared to the two other administrators involved in this case.” Thomas-Graves’s sister-in-law spoke on her behalf, as did the president of the Stamford NAACP, Jack Bryant. Bryant described the move for termination as a “career assassination” on one of the few district minority administrators.

Some parents of students in the special education department spoke on her behalf as well.  They provided anecdotes reflecting her dedication and commitment to her job and the department. One parent told the story of how Thomas-Graves attended PPT meetings just one day after slipping on ice and breaking her leg in December.

BOE President Jackie Heftman said that the board can take no action regarding Hamilton’s move for termination until after a hearing by an impartial hearing officer. Such an officer will probably have to come from another part of the state. The timeline for this hearing is unclear.

According to Heftman, the committee in charge of interviewing and selecting the new principal had a tough decision, which came down to current Norwalk High School administrator and past SHS administrator Raymond Manka or current Rippowam Middle School Assistant Principal and past SHS administrator Michael Rinaldi. The committee ultimately chose Manka, which led Superintendent Winifred Hamilton to recommend him to the Board of Education.  The BOE passed the resolution to make Manka the new SHS principal, with eight members voting in favor and BOE member Jerry Pia abstaining.

In an interview with The Round Table, Manka said he is “ecstatic to have a leadership position back at Stamford High School.” He described being an administrator as “thrilling” and he loved working at SHS. It “hurt his heart to have to be transferred out.” He conceded that “with change there is uncertainty,” but hoped that the SHS community could come together in a “collaborative effort” for the school and that the school can now “begin healing.” Manka said one of his favorite things about SHS is the “passion” for the school. He said, “It’s valuable and its rich and I’m envious of that – I didn’t have a high school like that.”