Parents passionately defended the record of John Marshall Elementary School Principal Gina Kraus at a packed East Hampton School Board meeting last Tuesday in hopes of swaying the board and Superintendent Richard Burns to reconsider granting her tenure.
Nearly 100 people attended the meeting in the East Hampton High School Library, and about 20 people spoke out on behalf of Ms. Kraus, who was in the audience.
Many of the speakers became emotional, their voices breaking, as they defended the principal. Parents mobilized earlier this month after they said they learned Mr. Burns had decided to not recommend Ms. Kraus for tenure. Mr. Burns has not confirmed whether or not he made a negative recommendation.
Mr. Burns offered his own comments on the matter, but did not mention Ms. Kraus by name in them.
“I am aware that changes throughout our system are challenging to dedicated, talented and hard-working people within their comfort zone,” Mr. Burns said, reading from a prepared statement. “It is our mission to enable our educators to know more about what they are doing, rather than just doing what they know. We, in East Hampton, will improve our performance.”
He also commented on the district’s need to improve communications with the community. “We need to let you know, earlier and more often, what we are doing, what steps we are taking, on behalf of our students, parents and taxpayers,” he said. “I am working on ways to communicate better.”
Still, confusion, shock, hurt and sometimes anger colored the tone of speakers’s comments. Many offered glowing praise of Ms. Kraus, using words like “fantastic,” “extremely intelligent” a “dynamite person” and an “inspiration” to describe her leadership style. Applause punctuated the end of each speaker’s comments.
Kim Jones, a parent of two sons in the elementary school, said she herself is a “product” of the East Hampton School District. Although she said she has not known Ms. Kraus for a very long time, the principal has left an impression on her.
“I can see that she cares because,” her voice broke, “on the day my sons went to Special Olympics bowling, she was there.” she said. “She was cheering on every student that was in there. And that’s what we need.”
She also said there’s “too much of a turnover” at the district, and recent changes in staff haven’t gone unnoticed by students.
“If my fourth- and third-graders are talking about who’s not going to be there next year, instead of saying ‘how was that math test?’ something’s wrong,” said Ms. Jones.
Another parent, Pat Matos, spoke to Ms. Kraus’s lasting impression on students. She said she’s the mother to grown men who still remember Ms. Kraus’s “heartfelt” gestures.
“Gina is part of a dying breed of teachers who have taught these children from first grade on,” she said.
Jim Brooks, who used to be a Riverhead School District teacher, said he’s “lost respect for the superintendent and there are many in the district who believe that he cannot be trusted.”
“Rich, I believe that when you look back at this decision, that you will look at it as the worst decision you have ever made in your education career, by not granting Gina Kraus tenure,” he said.
Chris Tracey, former John Marshall Elementary School Principal who worked alongside Ms. Kraus, spoke highly of his former colleague. Mr. Tracey retired in 2011, at which point Ms. Kraus, who was then assistant principal, took over. Ms. Kraus has more than 20 years of teaching experience, with most of them in East Hampton at the elementary level. She also has more than 10 years of experience training teachers with the Northeast Foundation for Children.
“When I first heard the news of the superintendent’s decision of denying tenure to Gina, I got a sickening knot in my stomach and since, it has weighed heavily on my heart, as I feel an injustice is being done to a school I love, and an administrator who I came to love and respect like a sister,” Mr. Tracey said.
Mr. Tracey continued to commend Ms. Kraus’s work. “Gina is one of the most student-centered administrators, adults, period, that I have worked with,” he said. “She has a tremendous knowledge of curriculum and as said before, developmentally appropriate instruction.”
The School Board told the audience they will know at the board’s April 2 meeting what the final decision on Ms. Kraus’s status is.
After the meeting, Ms. Kraus, who was being hugged and greeted by well-wishers, would only say, “I’m just very grateful for all the support.”