Mr. Olsen’s Abrupt Departure Shocks Sharon

By: Trisha Brahmachari & Ranya Merchant — Co Editors-in-Chief

On Tuesday, January 24th, news broke that Sharon High’s principal, Mr. Ralph Olsen, would not be returning the next morning for school.

The news came in a community update that was first sent to parents over email. The update stated that Mr. Olsen would be “stepping down to resume his retirement” and gave no further details or explanations. Students and staff alike were left confused as the news circulated around SHS and around town. 

“Mr. Olsen leaves the school in the able hands of Mr. Fazzio, Ms. Ravesi-Weinstein and the administrative team at SHS, who will also be supported by us in central administration, for the remainder of the year,” wrote Superintendent Dr. Peter Botelho in the email.

Botelho said he was unable to disclose any more information for confidentiality reasons. “There are a lot of privacy rights for Mr. Olsen that restrict a lot of what I can say. I want to be completely transparent, but legally and ethically, out of my respect for him, I can’t,” he said. 

Some SHS teachers were upset and angry about the suddenness of his departure. “Personally, I feel betrayed and  devastated — teachers are traumatized. We didn’t see it coming and we weren’t notified,” said Ms. Alberico, a math teacher at SHS.  

Students also expressed dismay at the suddenness of Mr. Olsen’s departure. “To have a principal leaving in the middle of the year especially with everything students have gone through recently is rattling — for it to happen so fast and unexpectedly is just chaotic and unorganized,” said senior Matthew Shore. 

“Personally, I feel blindsided,” he said. 

Senior Emily Coplan agreed, and said that the loss of yet another principal is a lot for the school to endure. “We’ve been so understanding of the situation and the fact that we finally got somewhere with someone we trust and we really built a community which is really important. It was just all taken from us and most kids didn’t even get to say goodbye.” 

“No one will tell us the true story and I feel like the administration owes it to us to be transparent,” Coplan added. 

Dr. Botelho said that he understands the frustration the SHS community feels. “You know, we do appreciate what Mr. Olsen did and we know that for many there’s a hole that is left. I appreciated him jumping in and doing what he did for this half year. I believe in duality; two truths can exist at once. That is part of the truth,” said Botelho.

However, many are upset by the handling of Mr. Olsen’s departure. “If he was going to be terminated, it needed to happen in a professional and humane way, not one that unceremoniously kicked out someone who had been an enormous help to our entire school,” said Ms. Malcolm, a social studies teacher at SHS. 

“Treating someone like a common criminal and not giving them an opportunity to give a proper goodbye to the school they served is incredibly unjust,” added Malcolm.

The lack of explanation that came with Mr. Olsen’s leave has also been frustrating for students. “I think the district administration has provided no valid explanations. They have told different stories to teachers, parents and students,” added Shore. 

“This will definitely be a stain on this academic year where obviously students are going to remember this,” he added. 

Senior Olivia Leblanc says she will miss the personal connection she had with Olsen. “He knew my family and he would ask me about my brother all the time. It was just a really emotional thing for me,” said Leblanc.

Teachers had a brief chance to say goodbye to Olsen during a short meeting in the black box theater. Alberico said that the experience was extremely emotional. “Teachers were crying. We didn’t know what to do,” she said.

“We formed a line and lined up to hug him while crying. He was so strong for us. He didn’t want to cry,” she added.

French teacher Ms. Turner said Olsen transformed the school in a unique way. “He’s the best administrator who ever worked here. He brought a ton of school spirit and I believe he made a lot of good decisions to advocate for students and teachers,” she said.

Ms. Georgi, a social studies teacher at SHS, agreed. “I’m sad because Mr Olsen’s first time as SHS principal made that year my favorite. The seniors from 2005-2006 still talk about what a great year he helped create for them.”

Mr. O’Reilly says Olsen’s return this year was a gift. “We were lucky that Mr. Olsen agreed to come back to Sharon for a third time to manage us through this very difficult period. Mr. Olsen is one of the hardest working and most competent administrators I’ve worked for. I haven’t heard any reasons that justify his firing in the middle of the year,” said O’Reilly.

Botelho says that it wasn’t his original intention for Olsen to leave with saying goodbye. “It was ultimately my decision, but there were factors that led to that which I never expected to happen.” 

“Unfortunately, there will still be an element of ‘we don’t really understand’ and I totally get that,” he added.

ELA teacher Ms. Lisa Jolicouer says it’s hard to believe that Mr. Olsen would leave in the middle of the school year. “I think that’s what makes it so difficult for us to pick up the pieces and find trust and confidence in the people who are providing this information.”

“At the end of the day, however, the reality is that we do have to move forward. We have been left in pieces before and found a way to move forward, and I am sure we will again,” she added.

Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Meg Dussault said there will be no further explanation for Olsen’s departure. “I absolutely understand why people continue to look for answers, but at this time the administration has provided all the answers that we are able to provide,“ said Dussault..

Turner said that while she understands the frustration, she ultimately respects the administration’s commitment to maintaining confidentiality. “It was well within the superintendent’s rights not to tell us why Mr. Olsen left even though it’s frustrating for us. In the same way, if something happened to me, I would want that same protection, and it also exists for students.”

Botelho announced to the staff at SHS on Friday, January 27th that science coordinator Ms. Emily Burke would become the interim principal for the remainder of the year. 

“Ms. Burke is certified as a principal and has important leadership experience as well as ties to the faculty that will make her a strong and steady leader for the remainder of the year,” wrote Botelho in the email. 

Burke has been teaching at Sharon Schools for 17 years and many teachers are optimistic about her role. “We are lucky to have Ms. Burke step in as the interim principal. I worked with Ms. Burke during our last NEASC Accreditation process and admired the work she did preparing and drafting our report. I was also impressed with all the work she did serving as the staff liaison for the new building project. She worked incredibly hard making sure the staff’s voices were heard during the project and keeping the staff informed of developments with the projects. I am confident she has the skills to be an effective leader of the school,” said O’Reilly. 

Bothelho says that he doesn’t expect the transition from Olsen to Burke to be disruptive for the students. “Students will not notice much of a difference in their day to day experience. Ms. Burke has always been a part of the building administrative team and already established a relationship with Mr. Fazzio and Ms. Ravesi-Weinstein.” 

“I’m more comfortable about the prospects for students and adults at SHS now that Ms. Burke has been named Interim Principal. I know that she, Mr. Fazzio, and Ms. Weinstein will work hard to help make the end of the year stable for us,” Georgi said. 

Senior Malika Angaian would like to see Olsen’s commitment mimicked by our new principal. “I would like to see the dedication that Mr. Olsen had by getting here so early in the morning. I would like to see time spent with the students as Mr. Olsen did. I would like to see the lunch barrel being rolled around again like Mr. Olsen did,” she said. 

Dussault says students can recreate the positivity that Olsen spread. “Think about the things that Mr. Olsen did that you thought were positive and ask yourself how you can replicate them. Did he bring the barrel around at lunchtime to help you clean up? Let’s be honest, you know he did. Then you can be the group that takes a turn bringing the barrel around for others,” she said.

This is not the first time SHS has experienced quick changes in administration. Turner says she is confident in the resilience of the school community. “The reason I’ve stayed here for 30 years is because the students and faculty are great. We’ve been through a lot but I think we’re really strong. This is a time for everybody to pull together,” said Turner.

“Ms Weinstein, Mr. Fazzio and now Ms. Burke make a great team,” she added.

One comment

  1. Thank you so much for this bit of news. For those of us without students in the school, it has been especially difficult to understand. I will miss Mr. Olsen.


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