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August 14, 2008

Editorial: Sullivan's exit spotlights officials' mishandling of pregnancy issue

The pregnancy spike this past spring at Gloucester High School has claimed another casualty: Principal Joseph Sullivan.

Indeed, Sullivan's departure at the end of the week — he has resigned effective this Friday — is a casualty, not so much for him, since he is of retirement age, but for the School Department and the city overall. It also adds another measure of chaos to a school, and a school system, that desperately needs stability — and it didn't have to happen..

Sullivan, who has led Gloucester High for the past 10 years, was not universally admired. No school principal is. No administrator who has to make tough decisions every day will be without critics or enemies after a decade.

But by most objective accounts, he was doing a good job in a tough environment, bringing a firm but compassionate hand to a school that needs structure. And he had the support of the city and school leadership — that is, until his comments to a reporter brought unwanted attention to the city.

In an interview with Time magazine, Sullivan said that a number of students — all 16 or younger — had celebrated with their friends when their pregnancy tests came back positive. The story paraphrased Sullivan saying there were "high fives" and "plans for baby showers" among some of the teens. But Time also reported that Sullivan had said the students had formed a "pact" to become pregnant together, and then raise their children together. That word prompted an international media firestorm that Mayor Carolyn Kirk and Superintendent Christopher Farmer clearly blamed on Sullivan.

Sullivan has said he doesn't recall using the term "pact," but then again, he was never really given the chance to confirm, deny or explain. When the media storm broke, Sullivan — like all other school personnel — was ordered by Farmer not to comment. He was barred from participating in any of the multiple press conferences. Mayor Kirk spoke for him, saying Sullivan's memory was "foggy," and that he couldn't recall what he had told the Time reporter.

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