Royle principal resigning, heads closer to home

After four years of leading Royle School and an entire career in Darien, Keith Margolus will be leaving this summer to take over as principal of Branchville Elementary School in Ridgefield.

Margolus, of Danbury, leaves at a time when administrators throughout the district have drawn heavy scrutiny for their possible mismanagement and participation in the illegal activities of last school year. However, Austin Drukker, Ridgefield’s Board of Education chairman, told The Darien Times that his board and the administration did their “due diligence” when vetting candidates for the position.

“That was a question that was brought up,” Drukker said of Margolus’s work in Darien and any possible controversy. “We feel the reasons for his move are the right reasons,” which include working closer to home and his family.

Six candidates were interviewed and three were brought in for a second round, according to Irene Burgess, the board’s vice chairman. Margolus was approved unanimously at the board’s May 12 meeting.

Margolus interned in Darien in the 1990s and has never left, beginning his career teaching fifth grade and serving as assistant principal at Ox Ridge before taking over at Royle in 2010.

Darien’s Board of Education approved Margolus’s resignation at its Tuesday meeting. No members mentioned his service to the town over the last 16 years.

Last year, however, Darien was found to have violated special education law, and was also found to have poor record-keeping practices and an assortment of management problems. This led to top-level resignations across the district, including the superintendent, the special education director, a literacy specialist, an assistant special education director, and others.

The Carmel, N.Y., native drew ire in the Royle community when it was reported in The Darien Times that he had written a letter of recommendation in 2011 for Liz Wesolowski, then-assistant special education director. Wesolowski was seeking a similar job in Shelton in late 2013, and used a letter Margolus had written two years earlier in her application.

In the letter, Margolus lauds Wesolowski’s “judgment in the most difficult of circumstances.”

“In the face of a persistent advocate or angry parent who made unnecessary or misguided requests and demands, Liz has proven to be a professional with personal strength and professional expertise,” Margolus wrote.

Wesolowski was one of three top administrators who parents say orchestrated last year’s illegal special education program. Problems boiled over with the hiring of Deirdre Osypuk as special education director. Osypuk resigned with guns blazing, claiming she was hired to rein in overly demanding parents and that the Board of Education was clear in its intentions. Judith Pandolfo, assistant superintendent for elementary education, has been cited by some parents, and by the district’s former special education director, Robin Pavia, as the leader of the district’s illegal campaign.

Some parents mentioned Margolus by name at the June meeting last year with state investigators, who were seeking stories from parents about illegal activity in the special education program. When Margolus’s support of Wesolowski’s employment was made public, skepticism about his abilities intensified.

In the wake of the special education problems, the Board of Education spent nearly $59,000 in legal fees as they sought to prevent the administrators union from getting a raise. Margolus is a member of that union. The raise was defeated, though it would have only cost taxpayers $70,000 — $11,000 more than what the district spent to fight the raise. The arbitration panel made it clear that its decision to uphold a wage freeze was not a punitive measure for last year’s problems, although they also noted the widespread impact the crisis was having on town morale, generally.

Darien administrators are among the highest paid in the state. Overall, Darien pays its employees the second highest wages in the state behind Norwalk. Margolus is the eighth highest-earning employee in town this year, taking home $169,180, as per his contract.

It is unclear what his salary in Ridgefield will be. The Darien Times has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the details of his employment contract and application and will report that information when it becomes available.

Betsy Hagerty-Ross, Darien’s Board of Ed chairman, did not respond to a request for comment.

Originally published in The Darien Times.

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