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Winchester High students want embattled principal retained

Winchester High School senior class president Oliver George spoke out in favor of principal Sean R. Kiley Tuesday night.John Blanding/Globe Staff

WINCHESTER — Hundreds of Winchester High School students packed a sweltering auditorium Tuesday night to help save embattled principal Sean Kiley, who apparently won’t be back on the job in September.

Earlier in the day, students held signs around town in support of Kiley, who led the 1,200-student school for just one year before new school superintendent Judith Evans sent an e-mail last week stating he had resigned.

Kiley, both in an e-mail to the Globe and in a posting on his blog Tuesday, said he has not resigned. The conflicting information has touched off a flurry of support for Kiley, with students taking to Facebook and Twitter and parents launching an online petition.

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“Principal Kiley was a phenomenal leader of our school during one of our most difficult years,” said Oliver George, 17, president of the incoming senior class, reading from a prepared statement at Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting at McCall Middle School. “He stayed positive and calm, while connecting with individual students on a personal level.”

George was referring to the death of a student-athlete last fall, just weeks after Kiley started as principal.

Evans, a former Medway superintendent, started her new post in Winchester on July 1.

Students, many of whom wore T-shirts sporting the hashtag “#keepkiley,” shared personal stories of the care and concern Kiley showed during his brief tenure.

Lori Scully, copresident of the parent/faculty association at the high school, said Kiley went above and beyond to “create an environment where students mattered.” Kiley, she said, went to their sporting events, into the hallways, and attended student functions. He also highlighted students and student achievements in his blog.

“He wanted them to feel proud to be part of Winchester High School. And they did,” Scully said.

School Superintendent Judith Evans said in an e-mail that Kiley submitted his notice; Kiley has denied resigning.John Blanding/Globe Staff

Others urged the School Committee and Evans to find a solution.

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“Dig deeper,” said Patricia Clewley, a town resident. “Talk to your attorneys.”

School Committee chairwoman Cindy Bohne thanked all who spoke for their passionate pleas but said the committee stands behind Evans.

“This is very emotional for me,” Bohne said. “But we stand behind [Evans’s] decision to accept [Kiley’s] resignation.”

Her comments were met with jeers from many in the audience, which spilled into the aisles and balcony of the auditorium.

Evans made a brief statement, praising the “close connections” Mr. Kiley established with students at Winchester High and their families.

She told the crowd that counsel had advised “it would not be appropriate to provide you with more details about what is a personnel matter” and tried to assure the audience that “we will continue to nurture a high school culture and climate that is inclusive and compassionate.”

The School Committee took public comments for nearly an hour Tuesday night, before taking a 20-minute recess.

In a brief interview, Evans said Kiley was placed on paid administrative leave on either Aug. 3 or 4.

She would not say if she has a resignation letter. She also does not know when an interim principal might be named.

But she said she is grateful to the students and parents who filled the school auditorium on a hot August night.

“I want to express my appreciation for the students, about how mature and respectful they were,” Evans said. “I hope everyone in Winchester knows I try to make all my decisions based solely on what their needs are.”

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In her e-mail last week, Evans wrote that Kiley “has given notice of his resignation from this position” and that school officials were “working to ensure a smooth transition of leadership and will provide more specifics on the interim administrative team as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, in a posting on his blog Tuesday, Kiley thanked parents and students for their support.

“I have not resigned and love my position as principal of Winchester High School and wish to continue as principal of Winchester High School for the 2016 academic year and beyond,” he wrote.

Students Julia Doo and Andrew Termini held a sign Tuesday afternoon supporting Kiley.John Blanding/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.