Organizer defends and explains controversial leadership program

NORWICH – The growing controversy over the pilot leadership training and character development program he has been working on for the past six months has Norwich High School Teacher Joe Maiurano shaking his head in disbelief. He says he can’t believe that so much negativity has grown around something that is designed to be such a positive experience.

The problem, in his opinion, is that people don’t understand what The Leadership Project is all about.

“I absolutely believe that when people find out about this program, they’ll understand what a wonderful opportunity this is,” Maiurano explained.

He was meeting with the students participating in the program on Tuesday night and therefore unable to attend the school board meeting also held that evening, where the hottest topic by far was the retreat he will lead this weekend.

While he wasn’t there, he is well aware that at the meeting, concerns were raised about the planning that went into the event, the timing, safety, the selection process and even the students selected.

If the community members, faculty and students who raised those concerns knew more, Maiurano said, “I think they would feel good about this program.”

At the board meeting, several people claimed there was inadequate planning for the trip, which will take a group of 26 students on a four-day retreat in the Adirondack Mountains.

“The idea that this is a poorly planned program is ludicrous,” Maiurano said. Rather than the slapped together program portrayed by some, he said he has been planning what he calls The Leadership Project since December. Maiurano, who teaches earth science, shaped the program based on his extensive experience in outdoor leadership education. In fact, the core of the program, he explained, is based on one he designed during his 11 years as an educator at Camp Dudley, which he compares to a mini-Outward Bound experience.

Maiurano worked closely with the High School’s Dean of Students, Scott Ryan, and other faculty and community members in finalizing the program. He first presented the idea to the district’s administration in mid-January, he said.

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