Springs School Superintendent Dominic Mucci vowed that the district is in good hands after a tumultuous week ended with the school without both its principal and assistant principal.
Parents last week received word via email from Mr. Mucci that Principal Eric Casale was rushed to the emergency room on Thursday afternoon for treatment of an undisclosed medical condition. He has since been released from the hospital and is “at home resting,” Mr. Mucci said this week.
Mr. Casale’s health issue follows the quiet exit of the district’s assistant principal, Dr. Katherine A. Byrnes, who sources said left the district as of April 25. Dr. Byrnes confirmed last week that she isn’t working at the school anymore, but wouldn’t comment on the circumstances behind her departure.
Since then, the district has brought on Louis Aiello, a former assistant superintendent from the Lindenhurst Public Schools who specializes in special education, a role that was Dr. Brynes’s specialty.
As of Monday, Mr. Casale had not returned to school, said Mr. Mucci. He said the district anticipates learning this week when Mr. Casale will return.
“I think it’s important for the community to know we have the whole ship covered in terms of needs of students being met every day, and we’re going to keep it running as smoothly as we can,” Mr. Mucci said when reached on Monday. “And I have confidence in the folks who are here to do that.”
School officials have declined to comment on either Mr. Casale’s medical issue or Dr. Byrnes’s departure.
“We don’t comment on personnel matters,” said School Board President Kathee Burke Gonzalez when asked about why Dr. Byrnes was no longer with the school district. She pointed out that the school’s attorneys have advised against speaking about personnel matters.
Dr. Byrnes was hired in August at a salary of $120,000 as part of a new leadership model. In that structure, the School Board chose to make the superintendent’s position a part-time one after former Superintendent Michael Hartner retired last year. Simultaneously, the School Board chose to hire a full-time assistant principal to run operations along with Mr. Casale.
Mr. Aiello will be paid $550 a day until the end of the school year, Mr. Mucci said. Mr. Aiello will not be working all five days of the school week, Mr. Mucci said.
District officials would not say whether Dr. Byrnes is still on the district’s payroll.
In the statement to parents last week, Mr. Mucci characterized Mr. Casale leaving the school via ambulance as a “precautionary” action.
“I know of the care, concern and love the students have for Mr. Casale and I am sharing this information with you with his permission,” Mr. Mucci said in the message. “He has been brought to the emergency room and is in good hands. He will remain overnight for observation and we hope to have him back soon. Please send positive wishes for a speedy recovery.”
A Springs School parent who requested to remain anonymous said last Thursday Dr. Byrnes’s exit is “extremely upsetting and concerning,” particularly since there had been no notice from the district on the vacancy. The parent pointed out that Mr. Mucci’s role with the district is part-time, and that as of Thursday afternoon, both the principal and assistant principal were not on school premises.
“Who is leading Springs School?” the parent said. “We have 687 kids in that building. I’m concerned. I really am. And I just feel like if I were doing it, I’d have a town meeting.”
Ms. Gonzalez said there is nothing to worry about. “They’re going to have plenty of reassurance that the district is in good hands,” Ms. Gonzalez said last Thursday. “They would expect nothing less. We would expect nothing else.”
Mr. Mucci appeared to debunk speculation as to whether Dr. Byrnes’s sudden exit had something to do with Mr. Casale’s medical condition, calling Mr. Casale “probably one of the best building administrators I’ve ever worked with.”
“Think of this,” Mr. Mucci said. “Eric Casale, everything I know about him, he’s been an incredibly hard worker since day one. This is the first year we’ve had an assistant administrator. So my sense is that if someone tries to put the two issues together they don’t know Eric Casale. Because if that were the case, it probably would have an impact far beyond the days we had an assistant principal.”
In another email to parents on Thursday evening, Mr. Mucci introduced Mr. Aiello and said the district was already taking additional steps to address parents’ concerns.
“Although my schedule in the district has been on a part-time basis, I have rearranged my schedule to be in the district daily until Mr. Casale’s return,” he stated, adding that Mr. Aiello “will be joining me in providing service and support to our staff and student body.”
“His primary responsibility will be to provide continued support to our special education students and the staff who serve them,” Mr. Mucci continued. “Mr. Aiello will serve as our chairperson for the Committee on Special Education for the remainder of the school year. He will be presiding over all annual review meetings and attending to any needs or concerns for our special education students. In addition, he will provide support to me to meet some of the day-to-day needs.”
According to Mr. Aiello’s resume, he serves as the chairperson on the Southampton School District’s interim committee on special education. In that role, he is “assisting the Director of Pupil Personnel Services with annual reviews for the district’s school-age and preschool populations. Subsequent to approval of the 2013/14 budget, the district will conduct a search for a full-time administrator in a probationary appointment.”
Mr. Aiello also lists four references of varying school districts and western Suffolk boards of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES. East Hampton School District Assistant Superintendent Robert Tymann is listed as Mr. Aiello’s first reference.
The district has announced that it has scheduled a meeting for parents to meet Mr. Aiello on Wednesday, May 8, at 7 p.m. in the school library.