The Lockport City School District is facing major changes next fall with the planned closing of two elementary schools, but the community around Anna Merritt Elementary School doesn't want the changes to include a new principal.
If Tuesday's evening's rain-soaked rally in front of the school is any indication, Michael S. Sobieraski, now in his seventh year at Anna Merritt, has won a place in the hearts of the students, their parents and teachers.
About 60 people demonstrated against the district's plans to reassign Sobieraski to become principal of Charles Upson Elementary School in September. The current Upson principal would be laid off as part of the district's cuts.
Bernadette Donovan, principal at John E. Pound Elementary, one of the schools targeted for closing, would be transferred to Anna Merritt, a move which doesn't make any sense in the view of Tammy Parete, president of the Anna Merritt PTA.
"She should be moved with the students from her school to Upson," Parete said.
The students now at Pound would be split about equally between Roy B. Kelley Elementary and Upson next fall. About 90 percent of the students leaving DeWitt Clinton Elementary, the other school to close, would shift to Merritt.
The crowd at Tuesday's rally included several teachers, who did not speak. One, who wouldn't give her name, said Superintendent Terry Ann Carbone had ordered them not to make public comments on the changes, including the transfer of Sobieraski.
"It's not a budget move. It's a superintendent's personnel move," said Parete, stepmother of Patty Parete, the Buffalo police officer injured in a shooting a few years ago.
"At least [Sobieraski] knows the kids that are here. He could devote more time to the new kids," said Suzette Smith, mother of a Merritt third-grader.
"He knows every one of our kids by name and a lot of their parents by name," said a Merritt teacher who refused to give her name because of the gag order.
"He is the heart and soul of this school. You could say he is Anna Merritt, and his presence will make the merger with DeWitt Clinton a smooth and easy one," Parete said. "I will fight to the end to make sure this unnecessary move of Mr. Sobieraski does not happen."
Fifth-grader Charles DeMartz yelled, "Raise your hands, everybody who thinks Mr. Sobieraski is awesome!" A cheer burst from the crowd as hands shot up.
"Mostly everybody," Charles observed. "I can't say anymore. My stomach hurts."
Later, he explained, "Even though we sometimes get in trouble, we really don't get yelled at, so he's nice."
"These guys respect him," Smith said. "They love him. He's the only person I've ever seen who can make a room of poking, screeching kids be quiet just by raising his hand."
Parete said she told Sobieraski, 50, about her protest plans.
"In the beginning he was totally for it," she said. "Now he's starting to get some pressure."
Carbone and Sobieraski did not return calls Tuesday. Marietta L. Schrader, president of the Board of Education, and John A. Linderman, the board's vice president, also could not be reached Tuesday.