Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hiring, Moving, and Evaluating Principals

A December post on this blog, Leadership in Seattle Public Schools, has had heavy traffic among Whittier Elementary parents discussing the principal Alex Coberly.

A blog posting Friday on the Seattle PI website includes some interesting perspectives on the same topic: Life goes on without Mr. C.

The issue that interests me is not the specifics of the Alex Coberly case, but rather the larger question, raised by many people, of how principals are hired, moved among schools in the district, and evaluated.

At one south Seattle school, the staff, after exhausting other options, took a "no-confidence vote" in the principal, with approximately 90% of staff saying they had no confidence in the principal's ability to run the school. The results were posted on the front door of the school for everyone to read, but the principal stayed on for the rest of that year and into the next year before she disappeared on administrative leave with no explanation or indication of how long that would last. The administrative leave lasted for months until finally the interim principal announced he would stay on for the rest of the year.

I assume the prinicpal's union contract provides some employment protection. But what exactly has to happen before a principal is removed from a school?

10 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

My understanding is that when a school gets a new principal, so long as the new principal isn't already working as a principal in the District, school community representatives get to participate in interviews and recommend a choice to the Superintendent. The Superintendent is under no obligation to follow that recommendation.

However, if the new principal is someone who is currently working as a principal for Seattle Public Schools, the community does not participate at all. The Superintendent makes the appointment unilaterally.

As for removing a principal, it is near impossible. The District seems to give more value to the voice of a single principal than the voices of hundreds of families. Petitioning the District or the Superintendent, even picketing the school have proven ineffective. The most expedient path appears to be making the person's working life so miserable that they ask to leave. Isn't that a sorry state of affairs?

Beth Bakeman said...

FYI, here's the update in the Seattle Times Sunday on the Alex Coberly situation:

Ballard principal charged with exposure

The principal of Whittier Elementary in Ballard has been charged with indecent exposure, according to a letter sent by the Seattle School District and received by parents on Saturday.

Alex Coberly has been on administrative leave since Dec. 7, when the district learned he was the subject of a criminal investigation. Last week, after the Seattle City Attorney's Office filed a misdemeanor complaint against him, the district notified parents about the nature of the alleged offense.

Coberly remains on indefinite leave, said Patti Spencer, district spokeswoman. "We need to review all the information. We don't have all the documents in our hands and can't speculate on a time frame for making decisions. It's not appropriate for us to discuss potential outcomes."

The school-district letter said the alleged incident "occurred outside of school hours and did not involve minors."

Coberly was in his fifth year as Whittier principal. He joined the district in 1998 as a substitute teacher and worked at Thurgood Marshall Elementary.

Julie Briedenbach is serving as Whittier's interim principal.

Anonymous said...

State law makes it neary impossible to terminate principals, particularly those with more than three years experience.

Dorothy said...

Getting rid of a principal has happened, here's an article about such an event. However she hadn't been a principal for very long and that may have made removing her easier.

http://tinyurl.com/y6tbqb

Notice the lack of unbiased reporting, refering to her in the first paragraph as "popular." By what objective measure?

As vice principal at Bryant, this woman acted in a completely unprofessional manner to my family. Several here have heard the story probably more times than they want. My particular story was not known by the district and did not affect her demotion. It might reveal patterns though that the district did see.

To be fair, part of the problem was that it's impossible to fire a tenured teacher. The kindergarten teacher was emotionally abusive to my son. In private Ms Hamai was supportive, but at the SIT meeting, when the kindergarten teacher changed her story and got all wacko blaming my five year old for such horrible things as "hurting her feelings," Hamai followed the teacher's lead into blaming everything on the parents and that my son needed to be punished for making the teacher cry. The teacher's behavior was irrelevant. Conveniently for her, all records of that SIT meeting got lost in the remodel. At least that's what she told me when I asked for them.

When she got notice of the demotion and some parents rallied to send letters to the district in support of her, it was only a fluke that I heard about it. I wrote a letter suggesting that to get the whole story the district should also get letters from parents who left the school because of her. I was not alone.

My experiences and the wealth of comments with conflicting perspectives about Whittier and Coberly show that one man's meat is another man's poison.

Will also say that the teachers' unions do themselves a disservice when they make it almost impossible to get rid of a bad teacher. Makes the whole profession appear less respectable.

(At the SIT meeting, I asked for details of what my son did to hurt her feelings. She said that when she sang 'Skiddamarink' to the class and pointed at him during the "I love you" part he made a grimace.)

Anonymous said...

"My particular story was not known by the district and did not affect her demotion. It might reveal patterns though that the district did see." The poster said her story was not know by the district.

It is true there should be patterns that surface to tell you if a principal is bad, but who at Whittier does know the things that have happened to some of us?

Those of us at Whittier who wish for a change in leadership are told by other parents not to dare speak out. We are told that if you complain to his boss it will not be held in confidence and he will find out.

Is this true? What is held in confidence. I know some really outrages things that were done but I just am also scared to make waves. I have tried to get some others who also have hade issues to complain but they are afraid it will affect their child's relationship with their teacher.

Often I have been told he won't stay forever just wait him out.

There are many parents who I know who say, "don't ruffle the waters he could be worse." And always they say, "Just be lucky Whittier is such a strong school". Nevertheless, there is this side of me that wonders why it has to be this way.

Anonymous said...

Again, this goes to the issue of leadership - if ethical leadership is a priority for the school district and the unions, principals will not be able to create an atmosphere of distrust. I understand that the school district has been kept apprised of at least some of his bad behavior but have done nothing. If this is true, it speaks volumes about their priorities.

Beth Bakeman said...

One of the Anonymous posters said "State law makes it neary impossible to terminate principals, particularly those with more than three years experience."

What state law is that? I had assumed it was union contract provision.

Anonymous said...

RCW 28A.405.200 -28A.405.380

Beth Bakeman said...

Thanks, Anonymous. In the section of the RCW you referenced, I found this:

"In the event it is determined that there is probable cause or causes that the employment contract of an employee should not be renewed by the district for the next ensuing term such employee shall be notified in writing on or before May 15th preceding the commencement of such term of that determination, or if the omnibus appropriations act has not passed the legislature by May 15th, then notification shall be no later than June 1st, which notification shall specify the cause or causes for nonrenewal of contract. Such determination of probable cause for certificated employees, other than the superintendent, shall be made by the superintendent. Such notice shall be served upon the employee personally, or by certified or registered mail, or by leaving a copy of the notice at the house of his or her usual abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then resident therein. Every such employee so notified, at his or her request made in writing and filed with the president, chair or secretary of the board of directors of the district within ten days after receiving such notice, shall be granted opportunity for hearing pursuant to RCW 28A.405.310 to determine whether there is sufficient cause or causes for nonrenewal of contract"

and this:

"Every superintendent determining that the best interests of the school district would be served by transferring any administrator to a subordinate certificated position shall notify that administrator in writing on or before May 15th preceding the commencement of such school term of that determination, or if the omnibus appropriations act has not passed the legislature by May 15th, then notification shall be no later than June 1st, which notification shall state the reason or reasons for the transfer, and shall identify the subordinate certificated position to which the administrator will be transferred."

But I still don't see what makes it "neary impossible to terminate principals, particularly those with more than three years experience."

Can you give me some more pointers to the section or sections that you see as creating the restriction?

Anonymous said...

I'm not the same poster above, but I do know that it's very complicated. Not only does state school law (RCW 28A) govern school employee employment, but state and federal law also set up the contract and bargaining provisions used in school district bargaining and employee grievance procedures. There is also a huge amount of law set forth in the WAC's. If you really want the answer, talk to SEA's or WEA's legal representation, who are experts.