The chair of the Horace Greeley High School Guidance Department was notified by Principal Robert Rhodes last week that she would be removed from that position allegedly for encouraging students to criticize district officials.
Christine Petrillo, who has been the school’s guidance chair for the past three years, said she was removed from the post after being accused last Wednesday morning.
Outspoken Horace Greeley High School students have spent the last few months urging district officials to retain Student Life Coordinator Kristen Spillane upon learning she would be denied tenure.
Spillane submitted her letter of resignation last Monday, effective June 30. The board voted to accept her resignation at the Mar. 8 board of education meeting.
Petrillo, a guidance counselor and 17-year district employee, denied the accusation against her, stating it would be unprofessional for her to do that.
“I want this community to understand that what happened here today is punitive, it was inaccurate and it was very, very similar to what happened to her [Spillane],” Petrillo said. “I am deeply, deeply concerned about the state of this school and this community, that it’s an inappropriate way to do business, to have treated me like I had done something wrong.”
Petrillo added that after speaking on behalf of Spillane at the Jan. 25 board meeting, where a group of students also rose to Spillane’s defense, her relationship with Rhodes and the administration began deteriorating.
Rhodes, for his part, said he couldn’t comment on personnel issues.
“I am here to tell you that what happened to me today is a symptom of what is happening here on this campus,” Petrillo said at the Mar. 8 board meeting. “They [the faculty] are afraid to speak up, they do not trust they can speak up without some sort of retaliation or interesting change in their world.”
She will be replaced as guidance chair on Apr. 17 when school reconvenes following spring break.
Petrillo also said that when Spillane submitted her resignation, she was told by Interim Superintendent of Schools Daniel McCann to quiet the crowds.
Last week’s turn of events is the latest episode of escalating tensions between district officials and segments of the school community. In the fall, some residents pressed former superintendent Dr. Lyn McKay and board trustees to resign for their handling of the Christopher Schraufnagel scandal, the former drama teacher who has pleaded guilty to criminal charges for inappropriate contact with students. McKay resigned on Oct. 31.
George Benack, a math teacher in the district for 25 years, added that the loss of Spillane has sent a chill throughout the Greeley staff. He criticized the board for making the community feel impotent and disrespected.
“Ms. Spillane is a woman with unquestionable character,” Benack said. “Unless you have a picture of her shaking hands with the devil, something doesn’t feel right.”
Trustees refused to speak on the matter citing personnel issues at the meeting. When contacted last Friday, Board President Alyson Gardner also denied comment.
Despite their efforts, students said they have been left frustrated and disappointed their concerns fell on deaf ears while being told that they were being listened to.
“We believe you’ve made a mistake and hope you’ll reconsider it,” senior Megan Townsend told the board last week. “What happened to Ms. Spillane is important in its own right but it’s also symptomatic of a larger problem here at Greeley and it’s a problem we need to fix.”
Townsend said Spillane’s resignation appears “very suspicious,” and appealed to the board and administration to do better.
Benack said he’s never seen his colleagues more demoralized and disenchanted.
“They feel underappreciated, undervalued and they remark about how the soul of the district has been lost,” he said.
“I really hope you think hard about the ways in which our administrators are moving this district forward,” Petrillo added. “We’re in trouble.”
In 2014, Spillane was hired for the newly created position of outreach counselor for students, helping to form the Peer Leadership and Ambassadors Program that brings students closer together and The Senior Experience Steering Group, an internship program.
It is not known if the decision to reject Spillane for tenure was a result of performance or budgetary issues.