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Atkinson a good selection as WHS principal

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The recent promotion of Leslie Atkinson as principal of Watertown High School will hopefully bring continuity and direction to a school that has been lacking both for several years.

The school was in good hands years ago under the leadership of the popular and community-engaged Stephen Todd. Unfortunately, he came to cross purposes with Superintendent Terry Fralick and soon left to take a position with the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Educational Services.

Mr. Fralick compounded the loss of Mr. Todd by hiring a polar opposite, Lloyd Peck, who drove 140 miles daily to and from his home in Liverpool, and made no effort to engage the community as he spent his two years here seeking a superintendent job elsewhere.

(Mr. Peck had commuted from Liverpool to his previous jobs at Albany High School and Alexandria Central School District, and yet school board members expressed surprised when he didn’t move here.)

From all accounts, the interim principal, Joseph M. McGrath, has served well. But as a caretaker, he has understandably shown a restrained hand when it comes to placing his stamp on the institution.

Ms. Atkinson, who was once a student at WHS and taught English at her alma mater before going into administration, brings institutional knowledge and a love for her community to her job. And the school will need both. For years, Watertown High has faced high dropout rates and has been on the state’s needs-improvement list. It also has a reputation as a school with disciplinary problems.

Those problems all begin in the home, and can be allowed to fester if not addressed at lower grades. Laying all blame on a high school’s doorstep is unreasonable. But with the right hand at the wheel at the high school, the district can better identify ways in lower grades to help reduce the dropout rate and improve academic scores.

We encourage our community to help one of its own, Ms. Atkinson, bring these improvements about.

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