Process questioned in search for new principal

K. Vandervort
A large crowd of residents turned out for the Ely School Board meeting on Monday to air their concerns about the principal hiring process.
Keith Vandervort

ELY – The process for the recent search for a high school principal came into question by a group of concerned citizens last week and they made their views known to the School Board Monday night.

Heidi Favet, speaking on behalf of as many as 50 school district residents who attended the meeting, read a letter presented to the board during the open forum portion of the meeting. The large crowd required the meeting to be moved from the board room to the media center.

“As parents and community members, we have a number of concerns about the process used in the recent selection of a high school principal,” she said. “We want to be clear that our statement are not a reflection on any candidate, but our concerns about the process that was used and its consequences for our school district.”

A divided search committee has recommended the hiring of current Floodwood principal Daniel Bettin to replace retiring principal Laurie Kess. Approval by the board has been delayed pending contract negotiation with Bettin and a background check.

Favet listed three concerns:

‰ Three school board members represented 60 percent of the votes on the selection committee and the same three school board members will be a 60 percent vote on the full board which would give final approval. This runs counter to a system of checks and balances. Two teachers and the retiring principal expressed a preference for the candidate that was not ultimately selected, but they were not allowed to vote.

‰ Two teachers were on the interview committee and believed they would be part of the selection process, but on the day of the final meeting of the committee, they were asked not to attend that meeting.

‰ Parents and community members were not given any role in the process.

“We are aware of examples in districts of similar size that have had principal selection committees with inclusion of multiple stakeholders,” Favet said. She went on to describe numerous principal selection processes and their make-up from many area districts, including Cook County and St. Charles. “The Ely School District has used similar committee composition in the past,” she said.

“Because teachers and staff work so closely with the principal on a daily basis, it is essential they have a good working relationship,” Favet said. She stressed that the group feels strongly that teacher representatives and school administrators should have more voice in the process.

“At this time, we are asking you not to proceed with hiring the current finalist,” she said. “We ask that the principal position be reopened. We ask that teacher representatives be included in the process. We urge you to aim for a candidate that has broad support.”

In closing, Favet said the group is proud of the school district and appreciates the service the school board members give to the community. “As parents and community members, we are committed to seeing our district stay strong. It is our desire to ensure that students, educators and staff of our district benefit from clear and transparent processes that build upon our district’s strengths, not create unnecessary rifts.”

According to board rules, comments from visitors must be informational in nature. The board could not engage in discussion or debate but took the information and will find answers that are appropriate.

The selection process was addressed by a couple of board members at the end of the meeting during the comments and concerns portion of the agenda.

School Board member Amy Richter suggested the board look at ways to make the administrative hiring process more transparent. “We can discuss this at a future board meeting,” she said.

Board Chairman Ray Marsnik said the search process was in place prior to the current search. “We used this process the last time a high school principal and an elementary principal was chosen,” he said. “No one questioned the process during those searches.

“Maybe the process not being right is debatable,” he said. “The board is more than happy to listen. We do have a written policy on the process. It is debatable. Nothing is perfect. We can certainly look at it and make changes.”

Personnel changes

Under the recommendation of 6-12 Principal Laurie Kess, the board agreed to continue the hockey head coach position for Kurt Matilla under probationary status pending satisfactory marks for the upcoming season.

The board approved the following hires: Bryan Fadum, Stacie Anderson, Mary Wognum, Kristin Mattilaa and Donna Prichard for special education positions; and Amanda Vanderbeek and Tiffany Davis, elementary teacher positions.

The board approved the resignation of Nolan Hauta, K-12 vocal music/instrumental music teacher.

The following fall coaching positions were approved: Jayne Dusich, cross country running; Brian Lamppa, head football coach; Cory Lassi, assistant football coach, Bill Henning and Robert Poderzay, volunteer assistant football coaches; Emmett Penke, head volleyball coach, Ryan Lindsay, assistant volleyball coach.


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