Problem Solving During First Day At Walsh School in Waterbury's North End

Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary inspects the rear entrance to Walsh School yesterday with Prinicpal Gina Calabrese, and they both agreed the fence should be locked, and students should arrive at the front entrance where the area was supervised.

                          Story and Photographs By John Murray

   It was the first day of school in Waterbury, and Mayor Neil O'Leary climbed in his black SUV and drove up to Walsh School to see how Principal Gina Calabrese was faring at her her new assignment on Dikeman Street, in the city's North End.

   Walsh School has done very poorly on standardized testing, and it's previous principal, Eric Brown, was removed from his position last year after an investigation into his management style inside the building. Brown - who is black, had strong support in segments in the black community, but was replaced.

   When the position of principal at Walsh School opened up, the response inside the school district was tepid. O'Leary told the Observer that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Ouellette approached Gina Calabrese about the position, and Calabrese agreed to transfer from Rotella School to Walsh.

   "That means everything to me" O'Leary said. "Gina was in a beautiful charter school and she left to try and make a difference."

   O'Leary entered Walsh a few minutes past 11 am and met with Calabrese for 20 minutes to express his support to the school and her leadership. He encouraged her to be innovative, to think outside the box, and that he would stand beside her.

   Calabrese expressed two immediate concerns to the mayor about the security of the building. Behind Walsh School, which used to be the main entrance, Calabrese said there were problems with fencing that allowed pit bulls to enter the playground. She also was troubled by a rear staircase that allowed students to climb a sharp hill to enter onto the school property without supervision.

  Calabrese took O'Leary to the back of the school to show him the fencing, and they discovered an expensive bike laying on the ground. From the way it was positioned on the ground, O'Leary suspected it might be stolen, and asked Calabrese to take custody of it.

  After inspecting the perimeter behind the school O'Leary agreed that the rear entrance should be closed off, an alarm should be installed on a rear exit, and the fence should be immediately repaired.

   "Gina Calabrese is a rock star," O'Leary said as he pulled away from the school. "And I have confidence she can turn this school around."