Did the local School Committee “overcorrect” three years ago when it named Todd Grimes as principal of Westerly High School? It’s a fair question to ask now that Grimes has been dismissed. When he took over in August 2015, it was his first experience as a principal, although he did work as dean of students at Chariho, and then as an associate principal in Glocester. He followed in the footsteps of Steven Ruscito, whose military record, as a Marine Corps mechanic and then as an Army officer, spanned nearly 30 years — a period when he started a parallel career in public school administration that lasted until August 2016 (he was tripped up by “inappropriate behavior” with his secretary in Warwick, and has since gone to work as training manager at the Twin River Casino).
Under Ruscito’s leadership, test scores at WHS improved and it earned “commended” status under Rhode Island’s rating system. Still, Grimes must have seemed a breath of fresh air with his accessibility, lack of pretensions, and personal interest in students. If there was a complaint, it may have been that he didn’t run a tight enough ship. The student fights in December could not have helped. In addition, the new superintendent, Mark Garceau, wants to put his stamp on Westerly’s administrative team, and in that sense Grimes may simply have run into the politics of changing expectations.
We might add that the shroud of secrecy that hangs over half of the hiring-and-firing process is a structural defect that needs to be remedied in state law. If an administrator chooses not to disclose the reason he or she has been dismissed, the public is wrongfully kept in the dark. We’re not suggesting that there was anything untoward in the principal’s conduct, but schools, both public and private, have a long history of shipping their unacknowledged personnel problems to someone else. School boards do this to avoid litigation, leaving young people to bear the consequences.
J. Mark Rooney, who was sworn in a week ago as Westerly’s interim town manager, seems to be making a good impression here. He certainly did with us, in an interview that we published on Saturday. Several points stood out: His intention to reside here “so I could fully understand the issues and challenges, especially in the summer,” and his focus on listening and learning about the community. As a veteran of municipal management, his record is one of problem-solving. Part of Westerly’s appeal, for him, was the contrast it affords with the Chicago surburban region, where he worked for 20 years. But most of all, he’s happy to have a job — and he cast his net wide. Last month he was one of five finalists for the administrator’s job in Palisade, a town in western Colorado with a population under 2,700, an elevation of 4,728 feet, and one retail marijuana store. Local TV said he told an assembly of citizens: “I grew up in a small town; I am a country boy at heart.”
They’re not exactly Good Samaritans, the motorists who spot drunken drivers, call 911, and then follow the offending vehicle until the police arive. There has to be an element of adventure in these pursuits, too, something that goes beyond civic duty. In monitoring DUI arrests around the area, we’re seeing these cases on a regular basis. The police appreciate the public’s help in gettng impaired drivers off the roads. They also offer some common-sense Do’s and Don’ts: Try to stay on the line with the dispatcher to provide the vehicle’s description and what it’s doing. If possible, have a passenger make the call. The signs of erratic driving are obvious but bear in mind that the driver might be tired or distacted, and not drunk. Don’t get too close, and stop the chase if it becomes unsafe or illegal to do so. And never confront the other driver if the vehicle stops; let the police do their job. The police also encourage residents to call if they’re unsure about something: Better a false alarm than an unreported DUI driver who causes a crash, or worse yet, a needless death.