Principal stands on his record at Scarborough High School

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SCARBOROUGH — After abruptly resigning as Scarborough High School principal, Dean Auriemma said he sometimes regretted his approach to the job, but never doubted his efforts to lead and change the high school.

“At the end of the day I would say the principal is responsible for everything, but it was my role to share the responsibility. It’s called shared leadership,” Auriemma said this week, 2 1/2 years after he was hired. “But somebody has to be willing to put their name on it and stand up for it. It is who I was when I was interviewed and who I am today.”

Auriemma submitted his resignation on Jan. 25, citing family demands while offering to stay on as principal until his contract expires on June 30.

After discussions with School Superintendent Dr. George Entwistle III, it was decided Auriemma would step aside Feb. 1, and Entwistle appointed a leadership team of Curriculum Director Monique Culbertson, Assistant Principals Ray Dunn and Susan Ketch, and Athletic Director Mike LeGage.

Auriemma will continue “to fulfill the remainder of his contract performing work that will contribute to important, district-wide, quality improvement initiatives,” Entwistle said.

On Wednesday, Auriemma said he started thinking about resigning after adopting two Russian children last October.

“I don’t know if it was a life-changing experience, or the fact these toddlers are very much in need of the attention you normally give toddlers,” he said.

Entwistle, citing confidentiality issues, declined comment beyond a letter to parents published on the School Department website.

But Auriemma conceded he was not always well-received by parents and staff.

A no-confidence letter questioning Auriemma’s leadership was circulated last fall; five of seven academic department heads stepped aside by the beginning of this school year, and former School Board student representative Adam Cohen wrote a letter to the board criticizing Auriemma’s style and demeanor.

Auriemma was shown the no-confidence letter by Entwistle, but said it played no role in his decision to resign.

“I saw it as an opportunity to address issues, that’s what you do,” he said.

In contrast, Auriemma said he had a good working relationship with Scarborough Education Association President Crystal Goodrich, and was always open to discussing differences of opinion – although his willingness had limits, he said.

“It depends on how you chose to see things not in my perspective. People can work together when they disagree. I don’t have a lot of patience when people are trying to turn things into issues that don’t focus on students,” Auriemma said.

Before he was appointed to replace Patricia Conant in 2010, Auriemma was principal at Thornton Fractional South High School in Lansing, Ill., near Chicago. He arrived at a school that had increased enrollment over the last decade and said he found some resistance to change, including reminders that Scarborough was not Chicago.

“Parents who went to school here are realizing it is not a 700-student school anymore,” he said.

The people moving to town for the schools and those in town already also provided a positive contrast to his prior job in Illinois, Auriemma said.

“There are many more families here who are still connected and still very functional in terms of interest in the child,” he said.

Auriemma noted he helped students print petitions opposing parking fees instituted by the School Board last year. He also worked with police and students to ensure the town mass-gathering ordinance would not be violated during a signature drive outside the school last summer.

School Board members approved a $50 annual fee last August.

Former School Board Chairman Bob Mitchell and Board member Aymie Hardesty said they were not aware former academic “lead teachers,” including science teacher David O’Connor, foreign language teacher Erik Zavasnik, art teacher Joanne Allen and English teacher David Hebert, no longer led their departments.

Mitchell said those were matters left to Entwistle and administrators, and Auriemma said the teachers stepped aside for a variety of reasons that sometimes included changes in approaches to teaching and curriculum.

Hardesty said she spoke with Auriemma on occasion because she hosted an exchange student attending the high school. She said she knew the no-confidence letter was written, but she added she also saw students “who really liked (Auriemma)” and appreciated his efforts to take care of all students.

Auriemma arrived as a supporter of the curriculum changes overseen by Culbertson and said he leaves as an advocate because his research shows the changes will reap positive benefits. It was not an easy sell, he said, because teachers were required to use more conforming curriculum.

“We were teaching the same class, but did not have a common syllabus, (so) the change could be interpreted as taking away individuality,” Auriemma said.

An area Auriemma said he made a primary focus was eliminating bullying. He said after seeing freshmen intimidated on the first day of school in his first year, he set out to make education accessible and equitable while improving safety.

Scarborough police logs show students have been issued summonses for issues including assaults and possession of alcohol, tobacco or drugs. This year, Auriemma was awarded the Virdie Montgomery Award as 2012 Principal of the Year by Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying foundation named in honor of Rachel Scott, the first victim of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Entwistle has asked Pleasant Hill Primary School Principal Kelly Mullen-Martin and Scarborough Middle School Principal Barbara Hathorn to lead the search for a new high school principal.

He said he hopes to hire a new principal by July 1.

Uncertain of what the future holds when his contract expires June 30, Auriemma said he and his family will stay in the area.

“We’re not going to be more than 10 miles from here,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.