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The Aegis
Harford County

Supporters of ousted principal pack Harford school board session

More than 70 parents of students at Bel Air's Homestead Wakefield Elementary School and others supporting the school's principal, Dale Hunsinger, showed up at Monday night's Harford County Board of Education meeting, some hoping for answers, others for justice.

Some were emotional; many were downright angry about Hunsinger's recent removal for which school officials, citing personnel confidentially, have had little to say by way of explanation.

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"Our school is in purgatory," Mary Harris, president of the Homestead-Wakefield PTA, said.

Harris was one of five people who spoke about Hunsinger during the public comment portion of the board meeting.

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Hunsinger, a 50-year Harford County Public Schools employee who has led Homestead-Wakefield for the past 17 years, is one of two elementary school principals who were removed from their positions with just weeks to go in the school year. Gwendolyn Benjamin-Jones, principal at Halls Cross Roads Elementary in Aberdeen, is the other.

Jillian Lader, HCPS manager of communications, said Hunsinger is "on leave" and Benjamin-Jones has been reassigned as an instructional facilitator after initially also being on leave.

Instructional facilitators work with the principal and assistant principals in the formal observation and evaluation of teachers and assist in the preparation and monitoring of assistance plans, in addition to other duties, Lader said.

Harley Main is acting principal at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary and Kelly Rietschel is acting principal at Halls Cross Roads Elementary, Lader said.

She also confirmed parents were informed of the changes by letters from HCPS, although several of those at Monday's meeting said the letters offered no real explanation why Hunsinger was ousted.

Hunsinger could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Megan Greco, who began talking, as she has previously, about the hazardous walking conditions for students at Bel Air Elementary, choked up when she switched the subject to Hunsinger, for whom she said she used to work as a teacher.

"I have never met an individual more dedicated to education to teachers, children and staff in the county," she said tearfully, adding that many people in the room and in the county who have been taught by or worked with Hunsinger "are amongst the luckiest people."

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"He had a deep impact on all of us who are proud to have known and worked with him," she said, thanking Hunsinger for "making a mark on myself and everyone else you impacted."

"I wish you could see the sea of red behind me; thank you and let's hear it for Dale," Greco concluded, as the audience broke into applause.

Other speakers, many of whom wore red shirts, ramped up the emotions by condemning the board and school administrative staff, provoking equally testy responses from board legal counsel Patrick Spicer, who tried to silence them when they strayed too close to criticism or personnel matters.

Some in the audience countered by trying to shout him down.

Parent Jen Byrne one-upped Spicer, offering a solution to what she likened to a funeral pall hanging over the school: "Rename Homestead-Wakefield Dale Hunsinger Elementary," she nearly shouted, as those seated behind her rose to the feet and cheered.

"The parents and the community he created just want answers," Katie Moen, another parent, said, reading from a letter she wrote to school officials. "We're not yelling at anyone; we are angry, but we just want answers."

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Moen said she never received a response to her letter, which she said never happened whenever she contacted Hunsinger, a comment that prompted another rebuke from Spicer and an equally strong retort.

"Well I'm done; I've said all I'm going to say," Moen said, urging the audience to show its support for Hunsinger as she walked away from the podium.

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Hunsinger's cousin, Scott Hunsinger, said the family hasn't been told much about the situation and, as a result, there has been a lot of wild innuendo and speculation that he said is unfair to his cousin.

Similar concerns were expressed by Sandra Monaco, president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, who said social media talk about Hunsinger's removal has been fueled in part by the refusal of school officials to give a straight explanation.

Earlier she told the board the school community "is in chaos" because of HCPS personnel policies that she said are in conflict with the board's community and parent involvement policies.

Monaco said that while parents in the audience are "well aware you can't address specific personnel matters and they understand the legal implications of doing so," parents have come before the board on several occasions "to voice their concerns, because no other venue is afforded to them; they come here when the community involvement policy is ignored."

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She said school leaders "need to be careful in drawing the line between legitimate confidential matters and the 'we cannot discuss' position as a means for keeping the community from being informed."

"When a community spirals into uncertainty, doesn't it deserve something more than a cryptic-type statement?" she asked.

Aegis staff member David Anderson contributed to this story.


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