Harnett’s Exit Accelerates Region One Decline

Even before the latest news broke this week, it was hard to imagine the situation at our local school district, Region One, could get any worse.

But with the sudden departure this week of Housatonic Principal Matt Harnett to head a Bristol middle school, the Region One fiasco has accelerated to absurd new heights. It harkens us back to three years ago when the principal and assistant principal quit just days before the opening of school. Once again, something was so wrong at the high school that a top leader was willing to risk his career to leave Falls Village for what can only be seen as a demotion.

After learning of Harnett’s departure, which was broken by The Lakeville Journal on its website Thursday afternoon, I put up the following tweet:

To which a reader responded:

You couldn’t possibly be thinking of blaming this on those who voted no to the budget…? I mean that would really be silly. How many principals/teachers/staff need to leave before this is figured out? It’s pretty clear to anyone who has an open mind and eyes.

No, I really don’t think what I have called the “shrillest voices among us” wanted to rid our local high school of a capable leader. But my best guess is the law of unintended consequences prevailed. That is to say many of those who have reflexively voted against the budget this year have made no secret of their desire to oust Superintendent Patricia Chamberlain, Assistant Superintendent Diane Goncalves and several board members. Now put yourself in Harnett’s place.

If you were only heading into your third year as the school’s leader and had made some controversial moves (e.g. denied tenure to a popular guidance counselor, laid off excess teachers while setting aside tens of thousands of dollars for iPads) and were faced with the potential loss of most of the people who had hired you, isn’t it reasonable to conclude you would be the next one in the bullseye of the “agitators” for change? How secure would you feel in your job?

In reviewing media coverage of Harnett’s hiring in 2011, I was struck by two things: first, then-BOE Chairman Judge Manning told Patrick Sullivan of the LJ that Harnett was the only finalist. If Harnett had not agreed to come on board, then the entire process would have started anew.

Second, it’s clear from looking at Harnett’s work history that he’s something of a professional vagabond. The longest he had served as an administrator was two four-year stints in New Britain and Torrington. Just prior to coming to Region One, Harnett had served as principal of Berlin High School for exactly one year before pulling up stakes and moving on to Housy.

So two years ago, the restless Harnett was the best they could do? Now after Harnett has quit in frustration amid much turmoil, we can only guess the quality of candidates who will line up to replace him.

Yes, we have here a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences. Create an environment that is hostile to certain administrators and others you didn’t want to intimidate will clear out as well. And the job of replacing them becomes infinitely more difficult. No one can be happy about this. No one.

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