By Nancy Covert
A large crowd of Steilacoom school district stakeholders—parents, community members, students and teachers—filled a section of Steilacoom High School’s Commons Wednesday evening to loudly protest the debatable process to select the high school’s next principal.
Comments from more than two dozen people resulted in the school board’s decision to table action on the selection of the next principal. This action was taken to offset the erroneous news that a Thurston County educator had been selected; while the second article softened that statement, saying that the selection required board approval.
To the gratification of all those who spoke against the process, the School Board voted 4-0 to table the topic.
As a result of a belated public comment process prior to Wednesday night, the Standing Room Only crowd heard Mike Winkler, School Board Chairman, say that the board would listen to community concerns. He later excused the Superintendent’s decision, saying that Mr. Fritz had only been following established board policy.
Parents, students and district teachers spoke heatedly in opposition to the selection process of a new principal, alleging that school staff recommendations had been ignored.
Flouting input from high school teachers and bypassing citizen input on this important educational role is seen as an insult to the community, many of whom spoke out against this selection, said several citizens.
While Mr. Winkler assured the audience that all who wanted to speak would be heard, there were a few times, however, when he had to remind speakers to stick to the issue.
In order to ensure that the discussion didn’t get overly heated, Officer Larry Whelan, a Steilacoom Public Safety officer was present throughout the meeting.
For more than an hour and a half , audience members loudly, and some a bit overly dramatically, protested the process and the choice of an outsider, rather than considering an existing, in-district educator for the position. At one point during the meeting audience comments turned into a passionate campaign in support of the high school’s assistant principal.
Students waved posters and several flashed hand signals, which one explained, represented “Low” for the assistant principal, Darren Lowry. The room’s mood was one of much resentment that the current assistant principal had been passed over. Some claimed that the selection of the next principal had been influenced by members of the district’s administrative team, rather than listening to the wishes of the school’s faculty members.
Many speakers’ comments that night were greeted with loud applause and ear splitting cheers. It wasn’t unusual to award standing ovations for their comments.
Claiming that the process had been “doctored” to suit certain applicants, several speakers emphasized the need for the board to be “transparent” in its decision-making.
Saltar’s Point Elementary teacher Karen Le Compte told listeners that, “Morale in the district is at an all-time low”. Parent Jamie Garrett said that there’s been a “breakdown” in trust between teachers, community and students. She asked that the board consider hosting a long-range strategic planning session, similar to what was held in the mid-90s, to get the district back on track.
The overall theme throughout the meeting was one of community dissatisfaction. The Board was urged to “pay attention” to this district’s history and culture.
In an effort to balance the overwhelming negativity, one DuPont parent asked for people to “step back” and take an objective view to the process.
“We want the best for our kids,” she added.
Students spoke out just as vehemently; reminding the Board about who it’s “supposed to represent.”
“There is a problem, so take note, Mr. Fritz.”
After Mr. Winkler asked Superintendent Bill Fritz to recap the selection process, Kevin Callanan, board member, moved that a final decision on the matter be tabled, and Mr. Winkler provided the second to that motion. The audience shouted its approval after the Board voted 4-0 in support of that recommendation.
Following conclusion to the remainder of the Board’s agenda for the evening, the board recessed for a half hour executive session on another matter. The meeting was expected to formally conclude about 10:30 p.m.
Commenting about the night’s discussion, one long-time resident/parent said it (the situation in the district) “was a much bigger issue than just selection of a principal.”