PARKLAND, Fla. – Hundreds gathered outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland today in support of their popular and well-liked principal, who lost his job this week.
Washington Collado was one of 15 principals being removed from his post in an unprecedented sweep instituted by Broward Supt. Robert Runcie. Collado was one of the highest-performing principals in the district at Douglas, an A-rated school that was recently recognized as one of the best schools in the country by Newsweek and the Washington Post.
Student Dominic Dragan said Collado made a huge impact in his life. When the principal overheard him talking about dropping out of school he had a meeting with him in his office and talked him into graduating. "He changed the way I look at school," said Dragan. "He is a good man."
Others talked of how Collado took special interest in countless students, attending extra-curricular events, even reaching into his own wallet when a kid was a dollar short for lunch.
"He just made a huge impact on all of us at this school," said student Jamie Beckermeister.
"He wasn't a principal, he was a friend," said one student. "My heart hurts because of this."
"Every time I had nobody to talk to and my grades were down, he would be the one to bring me up and help me," said sophomore Nazar Hilton-Powell.
"He really is the best principal this school has ever seen," said Jackie Fredde, a junior.
Runcie said the principals lost their positions to find a better "fit" for the schools. But everyone from Mayor Michael Udine to the PTA president to countless parents say Collado was the best fit as principal they've ever seen.
Supporters of Collado believe his support for cheerleading coach Melissa Prochilo, who was fired despite being cleared of any wrongdoing involving her team, led to his ouster.
"It's crazy," said cheerleader Amanda Kelley. "We all love Collado and it's not fair."
Parent Dixie Williams accompanied her special-needs daughter, Brooke, at the rally. She said Collado took special care of exceptional students just as he did the others.
"I have never had a principal who cared more," she said.
There appeared to be at least 500 people at the rally, which began at 2 p.m. and had many students walking out of class to attend. And for all their apparent respect for the principal, they had the opposite for Runcie and the school board, carrying signs urging board members to be "fired."
"I want to see an investigation," said parent Scott Etherington, whose daughter is a cheerleader. "I'd like to see people under oath, I want the truth to come out."