New Milford High principal rescinds resignation after community, school support

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — After two hours of heated discussion at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, New Milford High School Principal Raymond Manka rescinded his resignation and plans to continue leading the school.

Immediately upon Manka’s announcement, about 150 people in the audience applauded and cheered for more than five minutes.

Manka announced his resignation Friday in an email sent to parents at the high school. The resignation was followed with an online petition to oust superintendent Alisha DiCorpo and a Monday walkout by New Milford students. DiCopro and Manka have declined to address the reason for the resignation.

Manka became principal in the spring of 2021, when he replaced former Principal Greg Shugrue.

The petition, created by a caregiver of a student at the high school, circulated on social media indicating Manka would be one of about 10 staff members who left the district since DiCorpo was hired about 18 months ago. The petition, which has nearly 1,800 signatures, claims the high turnover is due to DiCorpo’s leadership.

On Monday morning, several hundred students at New Milford High School participated in a walk-out, in an effort to keep Manka at the school.

Throughout the one-hour public comment period of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, more than a dozen parents and students spoke in support of Manka — many sharing personal stories of how Manka changed their lives and the lives of their children.

One student was sophomore Joseph Russell, who said the school needs “leadership” like Manka’s more than ever — in light of prior principals who have left and because of the pandemic.

“As students, we have been hugely affected by COVID since March of 2020. The last thing that we need is another new principal. Over the past 10 months, Mr. Manka has made our school a happy and exciting place, a place that I never dreaded going to and a place where we all felt very included,” Russell said. “We do not want to have our third principal in high school going into our junior year after COVID.”

Russell said Manka helped his family through a recent “traumatic” period.

“Principal Manka was the first one to reach out to me. He put a team together immediately to make sure that I had somebody to turn to in the event that I needed assistance,” he said.

Jen LaCava, an English teacher at New Milford High School and parent of two students at the school, spoke about the “adjustment period” Manka went through coming into his new role.

“Mr. Manka started off the year in almost a dire situation. He came into a brand new computer system to all of the staff and faculty as we introduced Power School at New Milford High School. He fielded hundreds of phone calls and emails from irate parents, taking blame for incorrect schedules, people not being able to log in ... and not one of these issues was his fault,” LaCava said.

She said, “However, he graciously returned each email and phone call with politeness and professionalism until the program was made more manageable. Teachers and staff were also frustrated with the lack of time focused on Power School training, and he bore the brunt of that as well, with calmness and transparency, giving us time and opportunity to master the program ... Mr. Manka met these challenges head-on and kept a positive attitude throughout the entire year.”

She said Manka is “an effective communicator and a visible presence in our building. He is present in nearly all student functions and champions these kids every chance that he gets. He is invested in them, and they can feel it and that makes a difference. As a teacher, I feel supported by his administration.”

A handful addressed DiCorpo — both in support of her leadership and against it.

Shortly after public comment ended, the board took a 10-minute break and then, upon returning, asked publicly for Manka to speak in regard to his resignation — to which he stepped up to the podium and rescinded it.

“I would really like to express my thanks and gratitude for the school community, the community at large, and also to the board for granting me the opportunity to speak this evening,” Manka told Hearst Connecticut Media after his announcement, while students and parents surrounded him with smiles and laughter. “There are still things that have to happen and work that has to be done, but I look forward to being able to still work in and support my community.”