School Board to hire interim Evergreen principal
The School board voted 5-0 Monday to hire an interim principal for Evergreen Elementary School for the rest of the year.
The board also voted 5-0 to separate the positions of elementary school principal and superintendent, held by Rich Rhodes since the beginning of this school year, and to retain the services of the Association of Alaska School Boards to aid the search for a replacement superintendent. The board voted down 4-1, with Krissy Smith the lone dissenter, a motion that would have hired a lead teacher at Evergreen to provide administrative support.
The interim principal position would pay up to half a regular principal’s salary, potentially as high as $40,000 or $45,000, school business manager Pam Roope told the board. The ultimate amount would be based around the number of instruction days the interim principal actually worked, she said. The board could also potentially draw on revenue reserve funds to pay for additional positions, Roope added.
The vote comes after Rhodes’s resignation at the Dec. 18 school board meeting. Rhodes said in his letter of resignation and in an interview with the Sentinel that he was resigning to relocate his family to northern California in order to follow his children.
Board members and parents discussed possible future plans for the administration at a work session held prior to the actual meeting, where the votes were taken.
Janell Privett, who spoke during the public comment section of Monday’s meeting, portrayed an elementary school adversely affected and under-managed as a result of a principal frequently called away to perform superintendent duties. Her opinion jibes with concerns expressed by Sherri Petticrew, who earlier in the year relocated her son Spencer to Juneau over concerns school officials were unable to address a severe nut allergy.
“The school right now is probably the worst morale I’ve seen in a long time only because your principal didn’t have time to say hello to so-and-so in the hallway or say good morning to a teacher,” she said. “Really, Rich didn’t blow it, the time factor did, the components of trying to cover everything.”
Changes were necessary despite budgetary concerns sparked by declining enrollment and corresponding declines in federal and state funds, Privett said.
“You can’t not afford to do this,” she said. “You can find it in your budget. We’ve faced tougher times than you’re looking at right now.”
She pointed to the mill closings in the 1990s as an example.
“We had more moving vans than we had kids,” she said.
Privett recommended the board hire a retired superintendent and a retired principal through the AASB to replace Rhodes.
Diane O’Brien, who frequently attends meetings as a concerned parent, seemed to agree.
With the combined position, Rhodes “was gone twice as much, because he was gone for the principal position and gone for the superintendent position,” O’Brien said. “A dual position doesn’t buy us anything that way. I’ve heard from support staff that kids know, you know, when Rich is not around, he really makes a difference. His playground strategies have really worked. Things are great when he’s here, but when he’s gone, it makes a difference.”
Combined high school, middle school, and activities director Monty Buness said board members had discussed the combined weight of the responsibilities during initial discussions on combining the position.
“I think like at the start they said, Rich (Rhodes) had a lot on his plate. I think you go into some of these things, we talked about it when we started thinking about this, ‘Can it be done?’” he said. “Well, yeah, it can be done, probably, but we all knew there were gonna be things that were gonna be left at the wayside. I think as you go into this thing, I think it’s appropriate that we look at trying to maybe adjust some things and get some support in there for the rest of the year or so that we can … kinda’ get some things done at the elementary school that Rich needs some help with, somebody that’s equipped to do it. The following year, I would definitely advise going back to the superintendent/principal piece. Trying to do two things is trouble. If you’re trying to do everything, sometimes you’re missing out on something.”
“You don’t want to just continue doing this looping backfill,” he added, referring to a situation where the board moved to fix a problem, only to have to amend the fix a year later.
Smith also commented on the environment at the school.
“I think we need another body in the school to actually be involved with the teachers and the students,” she said. “We got bullying issues, we got severe attendance issues. If you called the parents you might know why. Parents aren’t even gettin’ called. There’s a lot of issues going on that just as a parent, besides being a board member, are very obvious. I’m looking at this as a body. I’m not gonna vote on anybody to come in and do some paperwork for the rest of the year.”
Board member Cyni Waddington also questioned the lead teacher position, saying it could put additional burden on already heavily-taxed teachers.
“Do we have teachers that aren’t working to their full capacity?” she said.
At various points during public comments expressed during the work session, Rhodes looked visibly distraught in reaction to what people were saying.
“I really can’t comment on personnel issues,” he said, when asked about his reactions later. The decision to hire an interim principal was a positive one, Rhodes said.
Smith cast the lone vote in favor of the lead teacher position, briefly considered as one possible alternative to hiring an interim principal, because she felt the position could be filled easier and quicker.
“I think it’s gonna take a very long process to get somebody in here for the next couple months, and at this point, if we were to hire it in-house, we could have somebody in there right now,” she said.
This year marks the first time the superintendent and principal positions have been combined. School officials originally enacted the combined positions as a cost-saving measure.
The AASB search will cost the district $7,000, according to school system documents. District personnel estimated they spent at least that much in work hours conducting the search themselves. Officials had received about 50 applications to replace Rhodes, administrative assistant Kimberly Powell told the board.
Teacher’s union officials praised the decision to separate the superintendent and principal positions, while declining to comment on a possible morale problem at Evergreen.
“It’ll be hard to find somebody this late in the year,” said Wrangell Teachers Association president Ryan Howe. “I know they’re gonna set up a good interview committee and get a good pool, but it could be tricky to get someone in place.”
“It’s a good thing and we’re happy,” he added.