Social and Political Commentary

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Melrose Free Press headline ill-timed

... fairness to Roosevelt School principal questioned

by Joe Sullivan

In its Thursday, March 30 edition the Melrose Free Press headlined that Tom Vennochi, Principal of the Roosevelt School, had been "cleared in  criminal complaint". The issuance of the complaint, his alleged rough treatment of a 6-year old boy during an assembly at the Roosevelt School, was denied at the Malden District Court. Two weeks earlier a DSS investigation also found no support for the allegations of abuse and neglect. Still to be settled, according to the Free Press, were the conclusions regarding the allegations expected  to come from an internal school investigation conducted by a group appointed from the school system.

Appearing alongside the story about Mr. Vennochi and sharing its same prominence was another story headlined, "Management style may make principalís return difficult." Since Mr. Vennochi was not suspended for his so-called management style why should it now be considered an impediment to his return? Moreover, being restored to his job was dependent on the yet-to-be-completed investigation by the school-system group. It would be another week before Mr. Vennochi was reinstated. The damaging, ill-timed headline appeared while Mr. Vennochiís reinstatement was still being determined; it would be hoped that there would be some very strong evidence to back up the headline. If there was anything of substance in the story that supported this claim it is very hard if not impossible to find. Instead the Free Press writer drew on what were called "sources" to lay out yet another series of allegations that center on Mr. Vennochiís management style. According to the statements, Mr. Vennochi is a yeller and a shouter who slams his fist and walks out of meetings in a rage. He blows up at teachers, he screams, he intimidates, he fills people with trepidation;  he does everything, apparently, but froth at the mouth. Mr. Vennochi, according to his detractors, is Conan the Principal.

What is so off-putting about the allegations is that they are never attributed to anyone. If the situation were not so serious the Free Press writerís claim that these are examples of people "coming forward" would be hilarious. In case the Free Press missed it, it is not possible to "come forward" and remain anonymous at the same time. Testimony and malevolence are two different things. The allegations in the story go on and on; plenty of claims and speculations but donít look for any names to go with them, you wonít find any.

Absent from the pool of "sources" for this story were Ms. Viki Brown, Susan Jones, and Jennifer Mahon, three teachers who work at the Roosevelt School. Apparently they could not be found when the Free Press writer was uncovering "sources." When the Free Press headlined in itís next weekís April 6 edition that "Vennochi to Return to Roosevelt", it also ran a letter from these three ladies in the same edition. Citing directly the story "Management style may make principalís return difficult" they retorted that Tom Vennochi was a fair and hardworking principal. They went on to say that changes had been made to the daily operations of the school but that these could be for the better. They acknowledged that their school community had negative experiences. The clincher was when they said that they felt that this public defamation of character had gone on long enough and did not serve what it is the Roosevelt does well -- educating the children of Melrose.

Before you conclude that these three ladies are looking to come down on the side of a winner keep in mind that their letter was written before it was announced that Tom Vennochi had his job back. Moreover, you can bet that they knew when they sent the letter that the people who were taking shots at Mr. Vennochi from concealment would be adding three more targets to their list. These ladies are stand-up guys who, for sure, do not lack for courage.

Criticizing people anonymously through the press is not only unfair itís also not the free ride it looks to be. Sometimes, something serious enough is said, and the law will force the claimant to be identified. A good example is that itís Scooter Libby whoís facing the music now, not Judy Miller or Matt Cooper. The people who play the "sources" game should know that, unfortunately for them, the result is almost always the same; what goes around, comes around.  

May 5, 2006


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