AMSTERDAM — The hiring of an interim principal and assistant principal for McNulty Elementary school this week had one parent questioning the recent turnover of administrators in the Greater Amsterdam School District and the decision to fill one of the vacancies with a former Cohoes High School principal who once purchased ammunition on school grounds.
The GASD Board of Education on Wednesday accepted the resignation of McNulty Principal Nicole Holehan effective Feb. 27. McNulty Assistant Principal Jessica Valente turned in her resignation a month earlier.
The school board has had refilling the assistant principal position on an interim basis on its agenda for several consecutive meetings. No name was previously attached to the resolution that was withdrawn without action each time.
On Wednesday, the board approved a pair of resolutions to appoint Daniel Connor interim principal and Joseph Rajczak interim assistant principal at McNulty while the district seeks permanent qualified candidates for both positions. Connor will receive $475 a day and Rajczak will receive $425 without any additional benefits. Both appointments run through June 30.
District parent Andreea Prusky told the board during the public comment period at the start of the meeting that she looked Rajczak up online after noticing the familiar name on the agenda and uncovered multiple news stories regarding a past incident he was involved in.
While serving as Cohoes High School principal, The Troy Record reported that Rajczak came under investigation after he was observed by a security guard purchasing 500 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition from a former student in the parking lot during school hours in May 2013. The guard reported the incident to police.
Cohoes police concluded at the time that nothing criminal had taken place. The incident took place a year before background check requirements to sell ammunition went into effect under the NY SAFE Act.
However, Rajczak was briefly placed on administrative leave for violating the Cohoes City School District’s code of conduct. He returned to school the same month after the Board of Education and school attorneys negotiated a penalty agreement in executive session. Details of the penalty were not released regarding the personnel matter, according to The Record.
Rajczak admitted to the incident at the time and was returned to his position due in part to his “positive record” as high school principal, The Record reported. Rajczak served as principal at Cohoes High School from November 1999 until his retirement in June 2016, according to a district spokesperson.
Still, Prusky rebuked Amsterdam’s proposed hiring of Rajczak who made the “conscious decision” to purchase ammunition at a school just months after the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
“Has Amsterdam become so desperate in the need for principals that we would actively choose a man who is supposed to be a role model for students that would buy illegal ammunition on school grounds? Such a choice speaks volumes to some of the decisions the district has been making in the blatant oversight of the safety of our children,” Prusky said.
Repeated threats have been made against Amsterdam schools over social media in the past two months amidst a backdrop of increasing instances of violence among students inside of buildings. Prusky has been critical of the district’s response as students have frequently begun initiating fights or jumping their classmates and filming the incidents to share on social media.
Prusky also pointed out that GASD has experienced frequent turnover among building administrators in recent years.
Both Holehan and Valente began leadership roles at McNulty at the beginning of the current academic year, each coming from positions in other school districts with previous administrative experience.
They were among six new building principals and assistant principals named by the district ahead of the 2021-22 school year following retirements or departures of principals at McNulty, Barkley Elementary School, Marie Curie Elementary School and Lynch Middle School.
The resignation of Amsterdam High School Principal Tyrone O’Meally in January leaves Tecler Elementary School as the only district building to date that will not have received a new principal in the last year. Current Tecler Principal John Miller has been in the position since 2017.
Both O’Meally and Valente left GASD for administrative positions with the Schenectady City School District. The reason for Holehan’s departure was not immediately known.
School Board Vice President Curtis Peninger noted McNulty has actually gone through three principals in just the last two and a half years.
The pre-K through grade five school has also had more frequent incidents of disciplinary issues this school year than other elementary schools in the district, according to a report delivered by Superintendent Richard Ruberti.
There have been 156 disciplinary referrals for students at McNulty from the beginning of the school year to Feb. 3, more than double the combined 76 referrals made at Barkley, Marie Curie and Tecler Elementary Schools. Thirty of the referrals at McNulty involved physical altercations.
“Something is systemically the matter,” Peninger said of the situation at McNulty.
Peninger went on to question the proposed appointment of Rajczak in light of the incident he was previously involved in.
“The person bought bullets less than 6 months after Sandy Hook, bought bullets on school property,” Peninger said. “What is it going to be like if we have that person on board now?”
“We can talk about that in executive session,” board President Nellie Bush said, ending the discussion.
Connor’s appointment as interim principal at McNulty was approved by the board as part of the consent agenda that allows the board to approve multiple resolutions together without discussion or individual motions.
Following a roughly 30 minute executive session to discuss the “work history and conditions of employment of particular persons,” the board separately approved Rajczak’s appointment as interim assistant principal at McNulty 5-1. Peninger was the lone board member to vote against the resolution. Board member Michael Villa was absent from the meeting.
Ruberti did not immediately return a request for comment on this story Thursday.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie