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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  • Rick

    “has quit in frustration amid much turmoil”……just curious….has he come out and said that is why he left? I know by observing everything that has gone on it would appear to be that, but perhaps there is another side for him? Liked Berlin better? Family liked Berlin better? Was just wondering if he had actually given a quote…

    This whole thing is really pretty sad…

    • ctdevilsadvocate

      Rick, as far as I can tell, he’s not talking to the media. But no one quits this late in the game unless things are bad. This will set Harnett’s career back, so he must have felt it was very important to leave.

      • Anonymous

        In an email to the high school faculty, Mr. Harnett indicated that he was leaving for reasons important to his family.

        • ctdevilsadvocate

          Right, that’s a classic: “I’m resigning to spend more time with my family.”

    • ctdevilsadvocate

      Also, Harnett has commented on several occasions how frustrating it is to run a school when the budget gets slammed repeatedly. That had to figure into it as well.

  • Tired of BOE

    Actually his resignation was based on the political atmosphere of Region One. Good luck finding staff at this point or volunteers for the various boards.

    • ctdevilsadvocate

      Correct, Tired of BOE. Agree completely. Read my latest post.

  • Bonnie

    the following is a copy of Mr Harnetts resignation letter. In it he clearly states that it is the atmosphere and the tension between the community, the BOE and the administration which have caused him to resign.