MAPLEWOOD, NJ - More than two dozen Seth Boyden Elementary School parents and students spoke out at Monday night’s school board meeting in favor of principal Damion Frye, who was not reappointed for the 2018-2019 school year, saying his support and oversight will be sorely missed.
Frye was not reappointed during last week’s board meeting when the governing body approved a long list of non-tenured staff, which did not include his name. The district has not stated why he was being replaced, offering only an email to parents Monday laying out plans for a replacement via a widespread search.
Frye, who is ending only his second year as principal, sent a letter to parents this past week that announced his departure, but also gave no reason. It stated, in part, “although my heart is heavy it is full of wonderful memories and experiences which I will cherish as I look forward to the next phase of my career.”
He later added, “my time here at Seth Boyden will be a source of inspiration as I continue my passion for building strong school communities, which are creative and help children want to come to school to learn.”
Frye’s departure, slated for the end of the current school year, comes just a few months after he was suspended for several weeks for an undisclosed reason. It was later reported that it was due to his treatment of a staffer, allegedly over a dispute about giving her time to pump breast milk, but the school board did not make an official statement about the suspension, stating they could not discuss personnel matters.
A crowd of more than 100 attended Monday’s meeting, with several dozen speaking up in favor of Frye and demanding he be reappointed. Several people even carried signs of support with messages like "Keep Frye" and "Don't Say Bye to Mr. Frye."
“I felt compelled to come to talk about who I see as a person who loves education,” said Nica Davidman, a Maplewood resident and Seth Boyden parent. “In education, we see a lot of people who love it and a lot of people who do it as a job … what I see in Mr. Frye is a really dedicated, engaged educator who loves his work … it would be a shame for this community to cast him away.”
Allyson Murphy, a South Orange parent, agreed: “I’m a huge advocate of Seth Boyden and of this principal, whose brought enthusiasm, creativity and spirit to this school. None of us are perfect … we believe in this principal and ask you to reconsider.”
Mitch Center, who helped launched an online petition supporting Frye that had already garnered 300 names as of Tuesday morning, said simply: “Please reconsider bringing Mr. Frye back for next year … he’s brought innovation to Seth Boyden.”
David E. Miller cited a personal incident that Frye helped resolve during his comments to the board.
“My fifth-grade daughter was the subject of severe bullying and thanks to Mr. Frye’s intervention that problem was nipped in the bud,” Miller explained. “And we were very grateful for that.”
Wilmana Bathelemy, a Seth Boyden fifth-grader, received a standing ovation after her heartfelt testimony.
“Mr. Frye has been a very great and inspiring principal and I think that he has inspired over 50 kids as I have been speaking to fifth graders, he’s put in programs that have made me feel better as a person,” she said. “He’s not the only person who has made mistakes, nobody is perfect.”
Katharine Houston-Voss, another Seth Boyden parent, said this move has raised concerns about the school board’s approach.
“He has been kind and patient,” she said of Frye, later adding, “to say I am disappointed is an understatement. To find out this wasn’t his decision and that the BOE has decided not to renew his contract makes me question this board of education that I helped elect.”
Board members did not comment on the issue, following their usual practice of not responding during public comment. No action was taken as the meeting was strictly an executive session, which means it is held behind closed doors. The law requires, however, that the meeting begin in open session and include a public comment portion.
The original board agenda online had set the meeting to start at 7 p.m. and public comment to begin at 7:05 p.m., but after opening the meeting, Board President Elizabeth Baker said that the public comment would be delayed nearly 90 minutes to 8:30 p.m.