PHS’s Dr. Dorothy Mohr Resigns
February 26, 2016
by Kaela Law
At the Feb. 17 Pelham School Board meeting, seats filled up with teachers, former and present Pelham High School students, and residents wanting to hear news of Pelham High School Principal Dr. Mohr’s resignation.
At the start of the meeting, Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz read a prepared statement: “The District accepted Dr. Mohr’s resignation in January, and this is the first public meeting since that time, so I wanted to announce that through the leadership of Dr. Mohr, Pelham High School has seen many changes of the last two decades; dramatic changes, such as competency based education and the development of pathways for student learning. As we usher in the next phase of change – a new facility, one to one technology for students, and personalized learning – the next 10 years will bring about a redefinition of Pelham High School. As we embark on this journey, having a leadership team that will be able to see this next phase all the way through to fruition is critical. To that end, Dr. Mohr has decided to move on to other opportunities and allow the next group of leaders to guide Pelham High School through the next phase of development. She will be leaving the Pelham School District on June 30, 2016 and we wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Public comments and input were invited from the audience members. An emotional testimony was heard from student School Board Representative Kaitlyn Minichiello. “Why?” she asked simply. “Why would the woman who fought so hard for the brand new building we have, leave right before the grand opening?”
Her sentiments and questions were re-iterated over again by each speaker who took the microphone that evening. “Why a woman who has been loyal to Pelham High School for 30 years would decide to leave out of nowhere, with no explanation for this sudden decision?” The common consensus seemed to be that something untoward was going on behind the scenes, and residents were looking for answers and seeking a reversal of the decision to accept Dr. Mohr’s resignation. It seemed to them that her decision to resign was not altogether voluntary.
Minecello held back tears while she stated, “I believe in Dr. Mohr. I believe that she is the best person to keep moving PHS in the direction of success.”
No answers were to be had that evening, however, as it is not common practice or in keeping with school board policy to discuss personnel issues publicly.
Perhaps the strongest statement encouraging the Pelham School Board to reconsider their decision to accept Dr. Mohr’s resignation came from Debra Sawyer. The president of the Pelham Education Association, who ranks Dr. Mohr at the very top in terms of positive education facilitating, encouraged the board to request Dr. Mohr return to her position for at least the next two years. Sawyer’s address to the school board is printed here in full.
“My name is Debra Sawyer, President of the Pelham Education Association, speaking to you in that capacity. Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight.
When I was told that Dr. Mohr was planning on submitting her resignation to the Board this evening, I was completely taken aback. There were no signs from her of beginning to mentally wrap up her career or of her health making the demands of the job difficult. In fact, the opposite has been true. The observations that I make in this address about how Dr. Mohr has led, and continues to lead, Pelham High are a mixture of my personal experiences and those of many staff members who cannot speak tonight.
Dr. Mohr cares about the learning, growth, and success of each student in the building. She actively seeks out opportunities for her students to interact within the local and global community. During her tenure, students have held internships, worked in a student IT help desk, participated in research with universities, skyped with experts as part of original research, and conducted research on local issues such as the pipeline. New student learning opportunities have been developed such as working to establish the FIRST Robotics team, chartering of various honor societies, more participation in music, art and writing contests, expanding Running Start and Dual Enrollment opportunities, increasing the number of Advanced Placement classes, and the development of expanded and new STEM and other Pathways. When a student is in danger of not fulfilling the requirements of a class or for graduation she works collaboratively with the student, the parents, the teachers, and guidance to develop a plan that can lead to success for the student.
Dr. Mohr has championed the notion of a comprehensive public high school as a place to prepare not only college bound students, but those interested in a technical education and general career preparedness. As technology became increasingly important in nearly every area of work, she has consistently worked to provide student access to computers in school. It began with the computer lab to support the English department’s writing program. It came to fruition though school budget funding and grants. She has never stopped working toward bringing technology to every student in every content area. All of this foundational work with access to technology brought forth the kind of activities that allow our students to become researchers, collaborators, and citizens in the global community.
As a teacher who has worked in five districts with eight different principals, Dr. Mohr is one of two of the very best in terms of communicating a clear vision of what the school should do for students and thinking very carefully about the best ways to achieve that vision. She does not seek a silver bullet solution to educational problems, but embraces a foundational and multifaceted approach. She is able to challenge us to push ourselves to deliver the best learning experience for students so that they may gain the vital skills of critical thinking and creative problem solving. She always encourages this professional growth by modeling the very teaching techniques she would like to see us use with students – posing questions, sending links to current research on learning and teaching, encouraging collaborative work with our peers, encouraging experimentation with the new ideas for supporting student learning that we learned from formal professional development classes and workshops, and deep professional reflection on our individual practices.
I have also been impressed with Pelham’s approach to NEASC accreditation process. Every other school in which I have worked has set aside all work with maintaining accreditation until the year before the self-study. Then panic ensues. Under Dr. Mohr’s leadership, Pelham High has addressed the standards for accreditation as they evolve during the ten years between formal visits. This goes beyond filing periodic reports on how the school has worked to address deficits from the last visit to being proactive by providing the staff with opportunities to explore how changes in the standards impact our practices as a school and reflect on how to incorporate those changes in the school’s daily practices. Many of us are concerned that having new leadership as we begin our NEASC self-study would be highly detrimental. The teachers have participated in the NEASC reflection activities that Dr. Mohr has periodically provided but she is the one that keeps her eye on that aspect of the school’s commitment to the Pelham community for high quality education.
Furthermore, Dr. Mohr has been able to deal with the challenges of ongoing construction in the midst of the educational space working to keep disruptions to classes, students, and staff to a minimum. The shuffling of teaching and working spaces has been a challenge, but the impact to students in classes has been managed effectively.
The teachers would feel much more confident moving forward if rather than accepting Dr. Mohr’s resignation tonight, the Board could persuade her to give a few more years of her experience, wisdom, and caring to Pelham High to help us achieve the vision. We need her to lead us across the bridge into the next phase and help us get our bearings on the other side before continuing our journey.
Thank you for listening to the support for Dr. Mohr’s leadership from the Pelham High School teachers.”