Packed GEHR meeting heats up over Absegami morale issue

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GALLOWAY – Tensions between the Absegami High School principal and the teaching staff heated up at the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District meeting Monday, June 2 at the high school.

Principal Jeri-Lynn Gatto was accused in an affirmative-action complaint filed April 30 of allegedly discriminating against French teacher Sally Giannandrea who has been battling cancer for years. The complaint was filed with John Ragan, the affirmative action officer for the district.

Several people, including teachers and support staff who are on the newly created Committee to Improve Absegami, addressed the board during the public portion of the meeting. 

Although they did not mention Gatto by name when describing the poor morale in the district, it was clearly attributed to the way she treats her employees.

Mark Glickstein, an Absegami teacher and union representative, called the environment at Absegami “toxic.”

“We are here tonight because we want Absegami to be a school where we all thrive. We must not forget we are role models. We have to stand up for what we believe in and treat others as we would want to be treated,” Glickstein said.

The committee intends to present a folder with complaints people have submitted about the ways they were allegedly mistreated by Gatto to the new school district superintendent in July, Glickstein said.
Shortly after the alleged incident with Gatto and Giannandrea, Glickstein appointed teachers and support staff to a committee to improve Absegami because of Gatto’s alleged discriminatory actions.

Amy Landgraf, a member of the Committee to Improve Absegami, said since she started working in the district seven years ago, 70 staff members and nine administrators have retired or left because of bad morale. She said she has had four different supervisors in the science department.

Landgraf said there should be exit interviews done to see why people left, adding that it is likely the environment. 

“All we hope for is to be a good example for our students and proud to be a brave,” she said.
Larry Caplan has been in the district 32 years, four as an Absegami High School student, and the remaining as a teacher at Absegami.
“For the first time ever I’ve heard teachers saying ‘I don’t think I could do this another 10 years’,” said Caplan, who is also on the new committee. He urged the GEHR board to help get the district “back on track” and work with a liaison.
“We have professional educators who love their school and are trying to make it the best it can be,” he said. “It is important we are all on the same page. We want to work together.”
Another teacher and committee member, Pam Montecalvo, told the board, “We would like to sit down with the new superintendent and administration.”
At one point nearing the end of the meeting Gatto stood up to comment about GEHR Superintendent Steven Ciccariello and Business Administrator Charles Muller. Ciccariello and Muller are retiring from the district effective June 30. Ciccariello was not at the meeting.
Glickstein got up abruptly and exited. Many others in attendance followed, creating noise to the point where it was difficult to hear Gatto speak.
“I know the last few months have not been fun,” Gatto said. “I’m sorry Steve (Ciccariello) is not here tonight. I would hope that when Steve and Charlie end their tenure here we remember the good things they did.”
Glickstein told The Current on Tuesday afternoon that he probably should not have left the meeting, especially after the speech he gave.
“Looking back, it would have been a better idea to stay given the speech I gave about respect.”
As for the affirmative-action complaint which was filed with John Ragan, the affirmative action officer for the district, it is unclear whether the report was completed. Neither Glickstein nor Gatto would comment on it.
Business Administrator Charles Muller said that it is a personnel matter and does not fall under the Open Public Records Act. Giannandrea is out on medical leave.

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