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Center Moriches parents want new principal

Center Moriches Middle and High School is at

Center Moriches Middle and High School is at 311 Frowein Rd., Center Moriches, and is part of the Center Moriches School District. (Sept. 19, 2012) Credit: Amanda Douville

About a dozen Center Moriches parents are circulating a petition to remove the newly hired middle school principal and relaunch the job search.

Citing Melissa Bates' inexperience, the petitioners were among more than 200 residents at Wednesday's school board meeting, most of which dealt with criticism of the new principal's work history.

Wendy Turkington, school board president, said after the meeting that Bates would retain her $110,000-a-year post, which she is scheduled to start this month.

District officials spent nearly three hours at Wednesday's meeting fielding questions on the hire.

District Superintendent Russell Stewart said Bates won the job over 98 applicants. She spent four years as a health and physical education teacher in Commack schools before spending the past year as his confidential assistant, Stewart said. She also completed a one-year administrative internship in the Commack district, he said.

"I respect and applaud the voice of the individuals within the community and understand that their position is grounded in what they believe is best for children," Bates said in a statement Thursday. "I am committed to Center Moriches Middle School and the District at large -- and the students' best interest will be at the helm of every decision I make."

Parents collecting signatures said they plan to send the petition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in hopes that he reverses the district's decision to hire Bates.

"I feel for the children's safety. I'm terrified of what will happen if somebody doesn't have the maturity or experience needed to run a middle school," said Sandra Gillies-Unger, 48, who has three children in the district.

Stewart recommended Bates, and the board approved the hire at its June 19 meeting in a 4-1 vote.

Bates received a bachelor's degree in health education and physical education from Rhode Island College, according to the district's website. The year she graduated was not listed, and district officials declined to release her age.

Bates also received a master's degree in liberal arts from Stony Brook University and recently completed her first year course work in the St. John's University doctoral program, where she is studying education administration and supervision, according to the district.

Danielle Dench, 39, an 11-year resident with four children in the district, said she isn't happy with the direction of the school and doesn't think Bates has enough experience for the job.

Bates replaced Patricia Cunningham, who retired.

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