Latest Whittell principal plans to stay a while |

Latest Whittell principal plans to stay a while

Janie Gray wants — or rather demands — that her presence be felt at Whittell High School.

The new principal began the first day of school with an assembly introducing herself and what she expects from the 241 freshmen through senior classmates.

During the assembly she stressed safety and order and reminded students that cell phone use among students while attending school was out of the question.

“My charge here has been to evaluate what’s happening, what needs to happen and to facilitate intervention,” Gray said during lunch period.

“I will be in the classrooms to make sure students optimize their learning abilities,” she continued.

Gray, dressed in Whittell red, visited every classroom the first day of instruction for Douglas County schools at the lake. She observed, took notes and spoke to students if asked by teachers.

The visitations, which will occur once a week in each class, took some students off guard.

“The principals usually come in (classrooms) but not on the first day,” said senior Sara Piccoli about her third principal in four years.

“I think she’s trying to get comfortable quick,” Sara added.

Gray is the fifth principal since 1998. Mario Gatto, who verbally pledged a four-year commitment at the school when he became principal two years ago, resigned in May.

Gray said she will stay a minimum of seven years at the school.

After Gatto resigned, Douglas County school officials scrambled to get an adequate selection process rolling. Seven candidates applied for the job and three were interviewed. Before taking the Whittell job, Gray was vice principal at Carson Valley Middle School for three years. She has been in education since 1967, mostly in Texas.

Gray spent her summer days helping squash rumors that Whittell lost its accreditation or was on probation. The school hasn’t lost its certification, Gray assured, but the accreditation team said the school needs more parent and community input. The team will revisit in spring.

A family death caused Gray to miss the freshmen picnic and a meeting with booster club members. It derailed two objectives for Gray: strengthening ties with parents and seeing students outside of school.

But the main objective for Gray is to raise the academic standards for Whittell. Based on last year’s graduating class, which had 93 percent of 41 seniors moving on to college and above-average scores on a state test administered last October, she may have a tough task of squeezing more brain power from Whittell.

Some students viewed Gray’s approach as too “strict” but acknowledged it was only the first day.

“I think she presented herself well,” said senior Devin Farnsworth. “She came off stern but reasonable.”

Marco Barrientos, a junior, attributed the principal turnover rate at Whittell to the many responsibilities of running a small school. Asked what he would like to see from his principal, Marco said she should add an automotive class and avoid Gatto’s approach.

“(Gatto) would’ve been good but he tried to please a lot of people and that didn’t work too well,” he said. “What would happen is he would end up making people angry.”

— E-mail William Ferchland at

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