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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 11, 2008

Nelligan resigns from GCSD

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Matthew Nelligan, the outspoken schoolteacher who rallied hundreds of students to keep his job, announced this week that he has resigned as a teacher in the Guilderland School District.

“After much discussion with my family and personal soul-searching,” he said in a statement he e-mailed to the press on Tuesday, “I have come to the conclusion that I should pursue new career opportunities at this time.”

Nelligan could not be reached for comment yesterday but his uncle, Roger Nelligan, said he got a job with the New York State Senate.

“He said to me a month or more ago that he has to look out for his family,” Roger Nelligan told The Enterprise yesterday. “This is an opportunity for him to move into a new field.”

Matthew Nelligan and another high-school social-studies teacher, Ann Marie McManus, had objected this summer to their transfer to the middle school. Nelligan declared it “a witch hunt and a punishment” and vowed he’d fight the move. He said he was targeted because of his conservative views and his criticism of the teachers’ union leadership.

The superintendent of schools, John McGuire, who accepted responsibility for the transfer decision, said it was not a punishment. Reports by an outside consultant showed a hostile work environment in the department, McGuire said, and it needed a “fresh lease on life.” (McManus had been on maternity leave during the period the reports were conducted.)

“We looked at every certified social studies teacher in the district,” he said, to map out changes, and a pair of teachers were transferred from the middle school as well.

Students, recent graduates, parents, and district residents packed several school-board meetings this summer and were frustrated when the board, in a 7-to-2 vote, decided not to re-examine the superintendent’s decision to transfer. The teachers became a cause celebre as television cameras filmed protests at board meetings and Nelligan and his students went on radio talk shows.

Placards in support of Nelligan and McManus were printed and posted around town, 2,000 people signed a petition calling for a reversal of the transfers, and a fund was established for Nelligan’s legal battle.

Nelligan and McManus both taught Farnsworth Middle School students the first day of school, Thursday, Sept. 4; the next day, Sept. 5, Nelligan submitted a letter of resignation, according to Susan Tangorre, the assistant superintendent for human resources.

“He resigned to pursue a new career opportunity,” she said of the reason stated in the letter.

Nelligan’s last day of work in the $58,967-a-year job, was Monday, Sept. 8, she said.

“He was with students for two days,” she said. “On Monday, he worked with the substitute, to co-ordinate.”

Tangorre said that finding a replacement for Nelligan was no problem. “We always have applicants,” she said. “Someone who was certified was available to be a long-term substitute.” That teacher started work on Monday.

“We made the transition for students as seamless as possible,” said Tangorre.

She went on, “We can hold teachers for 30 days…We went with what’s best for the students. We were trying to make the impact as minimal as possible.”

Tangorre concluded, “We work with folks.”

McManus has made the transition to middle-school teaching, said Tangorre. “She’s one of many teachers,” she said.

Mary Summermatter, the middle-school principal, said of Nelligan, “We welcomed him. He was on a great team with some great teachers.” The middle school uses a child-centered approach where teachers from several disciplines work together on teams.

Asked how Nelligan adjusted to the new job, she said, “He was here just a short time. You can’t judge in just a couple of days."

She said of the hiring of the long-term substitute, “There were no bumps in the road.”

Summermatter went on to say that McManus had made a smooth transition. Her background is in United States history, which matches the middle-school curriculum.

“She’s wonderful; she’s just delightful,” Summermatter said of McManus.

She concluded of Farnsworth, “We’re one happy family here.”

Elijah Sharma, a Guilderland High School senior who helped rally support for the teachers, said yesterday of Nelligan’s resignation, “It’s disappointing since he’s a great teacher, but it’s not surprising after what he’s been through. He should do what’s best for him.”

 Sharma is a co-founder and co-director of “United for McManus and Nelligan,” a student group that, often through on-line networking, rallied students to the teachers’ cause, and was a presence in television, radio, and newspaper reports.

Nelligan, who taught at Guilderland for a decade, said in his statement, “I am so proud of all my former students, who have grown into caring, intelligent and civic-minded young adults. I will always be humbled by the fact that I played even a small role in helping them to form their views and opinions and to achieve their goals.”

Sharma sent an e-mail to the press on Saturday saying he would be organizing “an official student organization” in support of Nelligan and McManus. He said yesterday that Nelligan had not told the group of his plans to resign but Sharma still plans to form the school club.

“We won’t be fighting Mr. Nelligan’s transfer now but we’re continuing to fight for Mrs. McManus…We plan to focus on the elections in May,” he said.

Sharma said the group will back candidates who agree to four stipulations: the resignation of Superintendent McGuire, a formal apology to the two teachers and the community, the reversal of McManus’s transfer, and a change in how the district handles such situations in the future.

The group, Sharma said, will campaign against the school budget unless the current board agrees to the four stipulations.

Asked if voting down the budget wouldn’t harm students rather than promote change, Sharma said, “We’ve pursued all of the other appropriate avenues…The superintendent and board are behaving improperly….”

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