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Catholic School Parents Continue to Protest Principal Change

About 15 parents stood in front of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School Friday, pleading with church officials to reinstate the school's outgoing principal.

Sharon Garon stood on the sidewalk in front of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School on Friday morning, raising a sign with her left hand that said "We Heart IHM" while clutching a cup of coffee with her right.

"This is the first time I've protested anything," the mother of a second-grader and a fourth-grader at the school said as rush hour traffic whizzed by on Briarcliff Road. 

Garon was one of a group of parents who, for the last two months, have been protesting the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta's . Parents claim DeWitt, who resigned last month, was forced from her job by the Rev. James Schillinger, head of the . Undisclosed tensions between the two, including the idenity of an anonymous donor who pledged $1 million to the school last year, reportedly led to DeWitt's resignation.

DeWitt is expected to remain in her post until June and has publicly asked parents in a letter not to protest her resignation because it distracts the school. But several parents protesting Friday said they have spoken to DeWitt and do not believe the letter reflects the principal's true feelings and that DeWitt, in fact, wants her job back. DeWitt has not responded to interview requests from North Druid Hills-Briarcliff Patch.

"What's being done is wrong, and I'm against it, and I protest it," said Sal DePasquale, another parent.

Disagreements over the school's leadership with Schillinger were likely brewing for some time before DeWitt's resignation, Garon said.

"[DeWitt] probably protected us from it for a long time," she said. "She did the right thing for a long time not exposing us to it."

The source of those tensions–with the exception of the donation–remain unclear, and rumors abound among parents at the school. Pat Chivers, an archdiocese spokeswoman, declined to speak in detail about the resignation, and Schillinger's office directed all questions to Chivers on Friday. Friday was also the deadline to apply for the principal position, and parents said they believe the church isn't allowing DeWitt to be reconsidered for the job.

Mike Watson, parent to a second-grader at the school, said DeWitt helped lead the school to be named one of 50 Blue Ribbon private schools nationwide by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009. He said he believes Schillinger seeks to exert more influence over the school.

"He stripped all her power from her to run the school on a day-to-day basis," he said.

Chivers said the church has three different documents, including the resignation letter, that DeWitt has signed, saying she wasn't forced from her position. Schillinger also didn't immediately accept her resignation, Chivers said. But if DeWitt wants her job back, she should be given it, Watson said – whether she willfully resigned or not.

"That's kind of splitting hairs, and it's disingenous," he said.

Roughly 15 parents on Briarcliff stood with signs, protesting for about an hour. Some cars honked in support as they drove past. Kelli Raviele, a parent to a first-grader and third-grader, said she simply wants DeWitt to remain in her post.

"The overwhelming reason the majority of parents chose the school is because of her," she said.

ParentforIHM April 11, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Sometimes change can be a good thing and other times it just disrupts a perfectly working system. What we are so angry about with this change is that it didn't have to happen because nothing was broken with our school. Unfortunately, through this 'change' we have learned that things are broken and now the one person that was holding it together is no longer going to be there. As parents we can ensure that the future 'change' is under controllsince we clearly can't change the past.
IHM Parent April 12, 2011 at 02:25 AM
Mr. Kaiser, I don't know anything about you except for the two posts that you have made here on the Patch, but I want to tell you that I respect you so much for letting your voice be heard. As a current concerned parent of an IHM student, I just want to say Thank You! I will also make sure that Mrs. DeWitt sees the comment that you left as I know that it will offer her a great deal of comfort.
Blue Ribbon Parent April 12, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Sue, Fr. Schillinger has violated SAIS/SACS Standards & Indicators (the dual accreditation agencies) related to governance of the school, as well as Archdiocesan governance policies, that put the accreditation of the school at risk. That will come out in the Accreditation Committee Report, one way or another. If you had taken the time to ask questions and meet with Mrs. DeWitt, you would know this already. Ask any experienced teacher and they will tell you that the principal dictates the direction of the school. Meet with and ask any IHM teacher (including Fr. Schillinger supporters) and they will tell you that IHM would not be the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence that it is without the leadership of Tricia DeWitt.
Lucy Mauterer April 15, 2011 at 05:05 PM
You have a wonderful school at IHM, but if the Archdiocese is unwilling to step in and at least listen to parents and investigate the situation, you have a problem. If most parents are happy with Mrs. DeWitt, and are currently supporting the school and the Diocese with their monies, then the leadership would be wise to take note. When one person is allowed to bully those he is contracted to serve (I'm referring to Fr. Schillinger) eventually the children will suffer. The atmosphere in the school will change, make no mistake about this. When people feel disempowered, there is a response. Keep digging to find out the truth of the matter. My guess is that there are motives and agendas that are still hidden and that have nothing to do with a love of children or their well-being. And hey, if all else fails, take your faith (and money) elsewhere.
Sal DePasquale April 15, 2011 at 05:21 PM
It appears Sue was correct. I spoke with the accreditation office and they are disinterested. I was told that if I didn't like what was going at IHM, I should vote with my feet and go somewhere else. So much for accreditation. Sal

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