MANCHESTER — A top city school official is saying little about the pending transfer of West High Assistant Principal Keith Puglisi, a school fixture described by one student as the "one constant positive leadership figure" at the school.
Puglisi has been an assistant principal at the school for the last 15 years, a tenure that reaches back to the final years of principal-turned-mayor Robert Baines. He has worked as assistant principal under five other principals and even served as an interim principal in late 2011, when school officials began efforts to push Principal MaryEllen McGorry out of the job.
This summer, former Nashua North assistant principal Christopher Motika took over the top job at West. Motika followed his Nashua North principal — David Ryan — to Manchester; Ryan is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the city.
Several students told the New Hampshire Union Leader they are upset about the transfer, which comes at the middle of the year and means seniors will finish their high school careers with new faces on the graduation dias.
"Even when disciplining students who deserve punishment, he gains the respect he deserves and treats them like every other student," wrote Danny McMillan, a senior and 2013 recipient of a Youth of the Year award from the Boys and Girls Club.
"Our school has never had one constant positive leadership figure besides Mr. Puglisi," he wrote in an email.
Puglisi will start his new job as assistant principal at Memorial High School on Jan. 2, Ryan said. Puglisi swaps jobs with Marianne Wood, the assistant principal at Memorial. She has been at Memorial for nine years.
Ryan said the school district does not discuss specific personnel issues as a matter of policy. But he said the decision was "difficult to make" and acknowledged the lasting friendships the two have made with staff and students.
"Decisons such as this one will always be met with opposition for a variety of reasons, and in the short term it is difficult to navigate through the change," Ryan wrote in an email. "We understand change is hard, and our high schools have excellent support systems to assist students with adjustments."
McMillan said Puglisi helped him recover from a serious automobile accident and even offered to get back on the road with him. Puglisi supported McMillan through the Youth of the Year contest and announced McMillan's statewide award to the entire school, he said.
Senior Class President Sabryna Boutin said Puglisi ensured her safety when she was being bullied.
McMillan said he has collected 500 signatures on a petition that calls Puglisi's transfer unfair and immoral and demands that he remain at West. Ryan said the school district administration has invited the students to meet with them on Monday.
At Memorial High School, principal Arthur Adamakos said the administrators at the main office will be sad to see Wood go.
"We've been a team for almost a decade and work well together," he said, adding that such a tenure is rare. But Adamakos said he is confident that Puglisi will be able to pick up where Wood left off.