Oysterponds principal stepping down in June

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04/06/2013 10:00 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Oysterponds principal Françoise Wittenburg, in the STEMS lab with student Nate Busch, 6, of Orient, is leaving the district at the end of the school year.

Oysterponds Elementary School principal Françoise Wittenburg will say goodbye to the Orient and East Marion communities at the conclusion of this school year.

In a letter issued last week to parents of the preschool through sixth-grade district, Ms. Wittenburg cited personal reasons in her decision to step down from the post she’s held since 2011.

“As my reason for leaving, I’m excited to announce that I’m expecting my fourth child early this fall and I have decided that it’s time for me to focus on my growing family,” she wrote. “Additionally, we’ve been offered an opportunity to return home to our [extended family] in Maui and we’ll be relocating this summer.”

Superintendent Richard Malone said he was sad to hear about the decision by Ms. Wittenburg, who he said has played an important part in creating the district’s new 21st-century learning environment for students.

“She came to appreciate the Oysterponds school as a place where we could develop a personal learning plan for each child,” he said. “I feel very happy for her, but also sad because we’ve developed such a good relationship and I’m sorry to see that end.”

Mr. Malone said the school board is expected to vote on her letter of resignation at its next meeting on April 16. By that time, he said the district should have a better idea of how it plans to replace Ms. Wittenburg.

She is the second administrator to leave the district this year. In July, the Oysterponds school board hired Mr. Malone as the new superintendent after Joan Frisicano resigned. Prior to Ms. Frisicano and Ms. Wittenburg’s tenure, the district had combined the jobs of principal and superintendent. School officials said the decision to split the position was made a few years ago because the move was cost effective and enhanced staff support.

School board president Dorothy-Dean Thomas described the news of Ms. Wittenburg’s leaving as bittersweet and said she wishes her well.

“She put together plans to send the district into a positive direction,” Ms. Thomas said. “I admire her. A lot was thrown at her and she took them on and made good things happen.”

One of the challenges for Ms. Wittenburg has been working to overcome the school’s dwindling student enrollment. In addition to launching a preschool program this year in an effort to attract new families into the district, the school has also created a combined-grade classroom model they believe will enhance students’ learning experiences. The plan, school officials have said, provides enough support to give each student a “personal learning plan.” Some parents have criticized the proposal, fearing students would slip through the cracks in a larger class or fail to thrive in a combined grade setting.

The school’s administration has defended their recommendation and said the district’s size and resources provide an ideal environment for individualized teaching.

In an interview this week, Ms. Wittenburg said she believes most of those concerns have subsided after the school strengthened its communication with parents to help them better understand the changes.

“It’s a federal initiative to promote a personalized learning environment,” she said about the plan. “I think there’s been some fear because it’s new … In this job market, you need to have the ability to problem solve, critically think and innovate. If you don’t have a lot of kids to do that with, then your learning is compromised.”

Ms. Wittenburg said she’s proud of the diverse programing she helped launched during her tenure, including events that invited community members into the school to interact with students and teach them about local history and culture.

Co-PTA president Holly Mastrangelo, whose child is in a combined class, described Ms. Wittenburg’s contributions to the district as forward-thinking and believes her efforts helped to heighten students’ curiosity and strengthened the community’s sense of pride with events like the Oral History Project and Career Day.

“Her love for our children was just huge,” Ms. Mastrangelo said. “She always greets them with a smiling face.”

Ms. Wittenburg said she’s enjoyed her time in the district, is grateful for the experience and will miss her students.

“I really love the kids here,” she said. “I feel like I’m the luckiest principal because I’ve gotten to know every student’s name and a little bit about each one of them.”

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