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October 01. 2012 11:26PM

Manchester High School West students support suspended principal


West High School Principal MaryEllen McGorry remains on paid suspension from her job. (UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — Manchester High School West students voiced their support for their suspended principal Monday, starting a petition and extolling a principal who was tough, loud and unfailingly dedicated to her students.

“She has a joyful personality,” said Joshua Elliot, a senior, about MaryEllen McGorry, who has led the school since 2008.

Elliot said he was a mess as a freshman and credits McGorry with turning his life around.

“She spoke to me every day, encouraged me to do the right thing and stay in classes,” he said.

Students questioned what could prompt officials to suspend McGorry.

On Monday, Superintendent Tom Brennan said he is prevented from discussing details of last week's suspension. He said an investigation is under way, and it is a high priority for him to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

Brennan said the investigation does not involve any allegations of mistreatment or abuse of students.

“It has nothing to do with the safety of students,” Brennan said.

In the meantime, McGorry is suspended with pay while Assistant Principal Keith Puglisi takes over her duties on an interim basis.

In school Monday, freshman Allie Nault started a petition to voice support for McGorry.

“Ms. McGorry cares about you whether you are one step from dropping out of school or in the top 10 percent of your class,” Nault said in a letter to school officials.

April Mandeville, a senior, said she signed the petition. She remembers McGorry comforting her as a teary-eyed, overwhelmed freshman.

“She's the grandmotherly type,” said Mandeville, as she practiced color guard outside the school.

Junior varsity football player Brian Makin said McGorry dresses in shoulder pads and a football jersey for homecoming. “She likes to yell in a good way. She's really peppy and spirited,” Makin said.

Several players said the diminutive principal knows how to quiet the cafeteria and get students to focus.

“All she has to do is yell once and everyone listens,” said Obed Perez, a junior.

“She's strict, but she tries to get us to graduate,” said Loreal Williams.

McGorry graduated from West and went on to earn a law degree and work as a prosecutor in Hillsborough County. But she shifted her career to education and returned to her alma mater. She taught English for three years. She was named an assistant principal in 2005 and principal in 2008.

In 2005, she confronted a student who brought a loaded gun into the school, pulling him out of class and turning him over to police.

Jason Cooper, a West Side school board member, said he was informed of the suspension but told nothing else. School officials tell the board little because a suspended employee may appeal any decision to the board.

He's been on the board for about a year. During that year, he's seen a couple of administrators suspended, only to return to the job, Cooper said.

“It's going to come to us in non-public (session) in one way, shape or form,” Cooper said.

Brennan said West is dealing with some crowding issues this year, but not as serious as the city's other two high schools. He said layoffs have prompted teachers to be shifted among all city schools.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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