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Emotional crowd backs fired JROTC instructor at school rally

By PAUL LEIGHTON | The Salem News | Published: December 19, 2017

SALEM, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — Students, parents and veterans made an emotional appeal to the school committee Monday night to reinstate the retired Marine Corps officer who was fired as the high school's JROTC instructor.

About 100 people packed the meeting room at Collins Middle School in Salem and more than a dozen spoke out in support of retired Lt. Col. Michael Hunter, calling him a dedicated mentor and role model to the cadets in the Salem High ROTC program.

"Because of Col. Hunter, I found the person, I found the drive, I found the motivation to be the best I can be," said Ryan Bates, an ROTC student who has signed up for the Marines. "This is a terrible crime that the colonel has been relieved of his position. I will not stand for it."

Hunter was fired last Friday by Salem High School Principal David Angeramo after what Hunter described as a "heated" argument between Hunter and an assistant principal over disciplining a student. More than 675 people have signed an online petition calling for his reinstatement.

After listening to the emotional pleas on Hunter's behalf for more than an hour, Superintendent Margarita Ruiz said she is prohibited by law from discussing the details of his dismissal. But she said should would be willing to meet with parents.

"I have heard you," Ruiz said. "I will take another look, but I am not promising anything."

Hunter, 58, is a 22-year Marine Corps veteran who had served as the senior Marine JROTC instructor at Salem High School for three years. The elective program has 87 students and offers leadership classes and competitions in such areas as physical fitness and marksmanship.

Neither Hunter nor Angeramo attended Monday night's meeting.

Allison Krezman, an JROTC student at Salem High who is scheduled to leave for Marine boot camp in February, said Hunter has been a "father figure" to her.

"He has given me so much courage and showed me who I was," she told the School Committee.

Paul Reyes, a former student under Hunter who is now in the Marines, said Hunter "may well have saved my life."

"The one thing I thought of every night in boot camp before I went to bed was that I could come home, shake his hand, and he could call me a Marine," Reyes said.

Catherine Nieves said her three children, two sons and a daughter, have gone through the JROTC program at Salem High.

"He has made most of the moms and dads in this room better parents," Nieves said as she started to cry. "He has brought together the whole school as a family."

White Street resident Carol Naranjo said the decision to fire Hunter has affected the entire community.

"It's a real black mark on Salem," she said. "It's a travesty that he has been let go. There are kids and parents here who are devastated."

Mayor Kim Driscoll, who is chairperson of the School Committee, told the crowd that the committee was willing to listen to their comments, but said the board does not have the authority to overturn personnel decisions. Hiring and firing rests with school principals and the superintendent, she said.

Driscoll said Angeramo, the high school principal, does not make rash judgments. But she also said the committee was willing to listen to the community's concerns.

"Clearly this took a lot of folks in this room by surprise," she said. "I can hear the frustration in people's voices."

School Committee member James Fleming, who is a veteran, said he did not think Hunter was given due process.

"I strongly recommended that it be resolved," he said.

©2017 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.)
Visit The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.) at www.salemnews.com
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