Students at Toll Gate High School may be taking some time off for the summer, but that doesn’t mean they have stopped noticing what is happening on school grounds.
Leah Prak, a rising senior reported to the Beacon Monday that students, both current and former, are outraged by the repainting of a large boulder, which once served as a student created memorial to their former principal, Stephen Chrabaszcz. Chrabaszcz died suddenly in the fall of 2016. Students were so outraged that someone took immediate action the night of July 8, adding a spray-painted “RIP Mr. Chrabaszcz” to the rock.
In the fall of this past year, Principal Candace Caluori discussed with students the possibility of painting over the rock, as a means to get emotional closure and move forward as a school community. Students say she pointed to other, more official memorials to the deceased principal as more suitable, and asked students to allow the rock to return to its original function as a dynamic symbol of school spirit.
Student Nick Badway does not agree that the student body was ready for this change. A former family friend and student of Chrabaszcz, Badway admits that there are other, more formal ways of honoring Principal Chrabaszcz throughout the school. He mentions a plaque in the center of the school, along with garden commissioned by the Class of 2018. However, he explains, to the student body, the rock is different.
The initial painting of the rock was a project taken on by a hundred students just after Chrabaszcz’s death. Badway said that he was not surprised when, in the fall of 2017, students did not take to the suggestion of repainting the rock, and the subject was dropped completely for the time being.
That was, until the students left for summer vacation.
On Sunday, a group of teenagers drove past the rock, and noticed that it had been changed. Larah Rick said that she, along with many others, first heard about the change in the rock via social media, and it has been a constant topic of conversation among her peers since then.
Alumni Julia Sharma-Mathias brought the photograph to the attention of the student body. A graduate of the class of 2017, she and her boyfriend tweeted a photograph of the repainted rock on Sunday morning, and by the time they returned at 9:30 p.m. that evening, a spray painted “RIP Mr. Chrabaszcz” had been added.
Sharma-Mathias feels students, not the administration should have a say on the appearance of the rock.
“Ultimately, this is the student’s decision, and the student’s area,” she said.
Prak immediately reached out to the administration via email, asking for answers about what had happened. Principal Caluori did respond, emphasizing once more that there are other memorials, and expressing her disappointment that students immediately took action against the new, time-consuming painting of the rock. Caluori declined to comment, and directed all questions to central administration.
Superintendent Philip Thornton said Wednesday that he stands by Calouri's attempts to beautify the school, as he agrees that Chrabaszcz already had been memorialized by the rock garden built by the class of 2018 in December, in addition to a conference room dedicated to him inside the school.
"I believe a permanent memorial space in a rock garden is a very fitting memorial for the man, much more so than a rock with spray painted graffiti on it," Thornton said.
Though happy to have received a response, Prak feels she speaks for many people when she says, “I think it is fair to ask the Ms. Caluori to wait until students who had Mr. Charbaszcz as a principal graduate before making this change.”
Rick, also a rising senior, agreed. “This is our way of showing appreciation for Mr. Chrabaszcz and the great principal he was, and we are not ready to just paint over it,” she said.
Barbara Chrabaszcz, widow of the beloved principal, said she had not heard about the incident until Tuesday evening, but truly understands both sides. She is sure that there was no disrespect intended from the side of the administration, and stresses how wonderful the school has been to her family over the sudden loss of her husband. However, she also understands that Chrabaszcz made a long lasting impact on his students.
“I am sure that the school did not intend to offend any one in any way,” she said on Wednesday, “But it is very heartwarming to hear that so many students still care so deeply about my husband.”