BEVERLY — Principal Catherine Gannon isn't going out without a fight.
The principal at Sutherland Elementary School in the heart of Beverly is vowing to fight the Local School Council's decision not to renew her four-year contract. The council voted 6-4 not to renew the pact on Jan. 10.
"I have decided to appeal the decision," Gannon said in a statement she read to the council on Tuesday. A crowd of supporters seated in the school auditorium erupted in applause.
Gannon has been principal of the school at 10015 S. Leavitt St. since 2006. She said student test scores have improved every year but one throughout her tenure.
Thus, Gannon's statement seemed to express disbelief at the council rating her work as "does not meet expectations," an evaluation that also was approved on Jan. 10 by the same 6-4 vote that later resulted in Gannon's contract non-renewal.
"I look forward to working with each and every one of you to retain my position," Gannon said.
An arbitration process will now decide Gannon's fate, though several parents in support of the principal encouraged the council members to rescind their vote against renewing Gannon's contract.
"You have torn this school apart, and we think you need to do something about it," Kitty Carol said when the meeting opened for public comment.
Carol has four children who've attended Sutherland. She later said a contingent known as the "Bulldog Slate" was voted onto the council in recent years. She said the group came into the school with an agenda that came to fruition when Gannon's contract wasn't renewed.
Cathy Bennett has three children enrolled at Sutherland and was a part of the council until recently. Bennett said a personality conflict with certain parents and the council members likely contributed to Gannon's ouster.
"Catherine isn't a big, warm and fuzzy person," said Bennett, adding that despite Gannon's approach her record of student achievement is paramount.
Nearly all of the public comments at Tuesday's meeting were in support of Gannon. Several parents asked the council members who voted against the principal's contract renewal to explain their decision.
But members haven't commented publicly on the vote beyond a statement issued by Chairwoman Julie O’Connor.
"We appreciate the hard work that all of the Sutherland teachers and staff put in every day. We on the LSC know that Sutherland is a good school and we believe it can be a great school. Our focus is to make this school great in every way, and have it be a vibrant center of our neighborhood. We thank Ms. Gannon for her work, and wish her success in the future," O'Connor said.
Speaking in support of Gannon, one parent said the neighborhood school's success is directly tied to property values. A new principal could ruin the positive reputation Sutherland has enjoyed for decades.
Only one parent spoke in defense of the council. She believed the council members voted according to their consciences and stressed that Sutherland would remain a vibrant school regardless of the principal.
"Our school was a great school before [Gannon] came," she said.
The next local school council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Sutherland.