Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals

 I know I may have said this before but I used to think that a school was only as good as the three-legged stool that it is - parents, teachers/staff and principal. I soon learned that without a good principal, you might not ever want to sit on that stool.

I have also often wondered if Seattle Schools had just bad luck/poor judgment about principals or if other districts have the same kind of churn. And principals aren't the same category as teachers. They don't have a union per se but in SPS, they have their own org, PASS (Principals Association of Seattle Schools). They oversee hundreds of students, not a single class. They have to juggle multiple balls of budget, discipline, curriculum and governance of a staff. That plus make parents and students feel good about the school. 

It was also an interesting fact for Seattle Schools that only until recently, they had three principals who had all graduated from the school that they now oversaw. That was Martin Floe at Ingraham High (still there), Kevin Wynkoop at Ballard High (on leave) and Ted Howard at Garfield High (who is now gone). 

Recently, I noticed an uptick in the hiring of Black principals in SPS. I sat down and went through looking for every school's principal (tedious because SPS does not require principals to be on the homepage for their school's webpage nor have their own listing in the staff listings). 

The results mirror what the district and the Board have been pushing as part of the initiative for Black boys in SPS. 

I found this:

60% of SPS principals are white (primarily men)

25% of SPS principals are Black (primarily men)

 5% of SPS principals are Asian

 4% of SPS principals are Hispanic/Latinx

 4% of SPS principals appear to be Multiracial 

The numbers for high school are striking - 8 Black principals for 15 high schools and 6 Black principals for 14 middle schools. 

To recap the enrollment of SPS:

45.9% of students are white

14.9% of students are Black

13.4% of students are Hispanic/Latinx

12.6% of students are Asian

12.4% of students are multiracial

  .4% of students are Native American

  .4% of students are Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

If you add up all the non-white categories, you have a majority minority district of 54.1%. 

Yes, it would seem that the balance of principals is off because clearly, there are not nearly as many Asian and Hispanic/Latinx principals as you might expect. I suspect that this is part of the AA Black boys initiative perhaps on the theory that it's more important for Black boys to see a Black male in leadership than it is for Asian or Hispanic/Latinx students to see a principal who looks like them. 

And yet, SPS' history of trouble with principals continues. As I reported a week or so ago, the Personnel Report for the last Board meeting showed the exiting of the principal at Roosevelt High School, Hkwaua QueJol Hollins as well as Christina Posten of Whitman Middle School. Both in the middle of the school year. That's unusual.

My intel says that Principal Hollins was a respected and liked principal at RHS among students, parents and staff. So what happened? I can only say that near to nothing has been said to students and parents with NO interim principal and missives from administration signed, "The Team." I would guess that the assistant principals are "The Team." I also heard that there may have been an interaction with the principal and a student on school grounds that may be the issue. 

We still have the case of Kevin Wynkoop out at Ballard High School over the issue of a student and his family saying that the student was retaliated against because of the student's complaint over what the student thought was a racist LA assignment. 

Wynkoop got put on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave and an assistant principal, Joseph Williams who is a Black man, is now interim principal at Ballard. (No, I am not connecting the case against Wynkoop with the growing number of Black principals.)

I did get the investigative report on the Wynkoop case. Basically, what occurred was investigated and it appears there was nothing racially motivated to be found BUT that the investigator then turned all the evidence over to SPS HR and that is where the issues against Wynkoop were found. 

It has been stated that the investigative report found that Wynkoop and the teacher in question, Wendy Olsen,  

had fostered a hostile school environment and had violated the school district’s policies.
The report does not say that so I await the release of the HR report so I can fully understand the investigative report vis a vis district policies. 

The report is actually pretty sad reading because you see the following:

- A student and his parents who feel wronged and are tenacious in wanting an outcome that satisfies them.
- A teacher who seems somewhat fragile and especially so when the student and his parents continue to question her teaching methods.
- A teacher who thought it a good idea to allow her personal experiences to come into play for an assignment and then, when she's questioned on the assignment, to again loop back to her own personal experience. I think there is a line for that kind of personal exposition from a teacher and she may have crossed it. 
- No student in the class who was questioned said that they thought the assignment was racist.
- Educators at the school and at the district level who examined the assignment found it reasonable and within the guidelines of what was to be taught.
- A principal trying to understand what the student and parents want in the face of growing hostility on their part. The key issue is that Wynkoop was accused of retaliating against the student by moving him to another class. You read the report and find out that 1) at the same time the parents are unhappy with this teacher, they want their daughter (another BHS student) to be moved from her class; 2) so Wynkoop may have thought that was what would be good for their son's case and 3) the class he got moved to is a more senior teacher who uses a social justice focus. It's hard to argue the latter was a bad idea. 

 Lastly, given that the parents have found fault with teachers for both their students, I'd bet this won't be the last time that Ballard administration hears from this family. 

I'm not saying it's easy to find good principals nor that principals can't make serious mistakes. I can say that one example of a principal who had several huge issues in his time at his school and yet never got in trouble was Ted Howard at Garfield. 

The bottom line  - as it always is for SPS - is trying to avoid a lawsuit. Whether it's bending over backwards to protect a teacher or principal OR silence a family, it's all about the money. 


Anonymous said…
Wow I have a kid in Roosevelt and this is the first I’m hearing of it.

Rough Ride
Rough Ride, my oh my. Then what I was told - there was no notification to parents - is likely true.

To everyone else, take this as the signal that this district and this Board is going to put you all on a need to know basis.

They will decide what you need to know and when.
Anonymous said…
Another Roosevelt parent here. The only notification I've seen about Principal Hollins was a couple of notes in the weekly newsletter. A couple weeks ago, the newsletter mentioned he was out on medical leave, and on Friday it said he wouldn't be returning this year.

Your report that he wouldn't be returning at all was news to me.

D's mom
Anonymous said…
I am curious to learn more about the Whitman principal as well. All anyone seems to know is that she was out on Medical Leave starting in January and hasn't yet returned.

-Whitman??? said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
It certainly seems like principal purge is under way. PASS should stand up and resist this.

Fight Back
Anonymous said…
Schools are losing good principals at an alarming rate. MW you are not wrong about Ballard.

Frustrated BHS Parent
Anonymous said…
I'm both staff and parent at RHS.

Parents got the brief medical leave announcement. Staff knew that Hollins had broken up a fight and made contact with the students in doing so. Most staffers believe he was put on admin leave for this, but no one has any real info. We're being kept in the dark on all levels.

The only reason we found out he was leaving was because a teacher dug into the board notes and found it in the section on personnel changes.

I think a lot of the kids miss him. He was a dynamic presence in the school for sure, and well-meaning. Staff is more mixed, as many felt he was clearly in over his head in terms of what is really a very challenging and complex job.
Anonymous said…
As a Teacher and Alum at RHS,

Principal Hollins demonstrated routinely his inability to successfully lead and run a high school. Not only did he lack the necessary experience that is required of a principal of a school with 1600 kids, he also did not possess a growth mindset to adapt to his repeated mishandling's of administrative duties. It was apparent that by saying "I love you" and utilizing toxic positivity as his narrative and bravado, he thought he could swoon both students and faculty into believing he actually knew what he was doing. I don't fault the man for being way in over his head, but he lacked fundamental organizational, procedural, and bureaucratic skills that are foundational to the success of any leader. We all know real leadership occurs through action, not words and Mr. Hollins inability was rapidly brought out into the light for the district to see. Did the district mishandle the situation? Of course. They are covering their side from the legal end, but they did wrong by the Mr. Hollins and the school by hiring him in the first place. In the end, this was the correct decision to move forward without Mr. Hollins not only for the faculty and the community, but most of all for the students. Yeah they might miss his corny AM yelling over the speakers, but what "Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Roosevelt" needs is a leader in the halls, in the classrooms, and in the community making a difference and Mr. Hollins met none of the criteria. I am hopeful for the future for the next leader to lead! Go riders!
Anonymous said…
@Teacher & Alum,
I hope you shared your views with the district. And while I blame a lot of stuff on the district, Principal Hollins hiring should not be blamed on them. There was a hiring team "made up of a diverse group of staff, students, and parents, [who] recommended Mr. Hollins due to his student-centered and equity-focused approach to leadership. They also appreciated his focus on building relationships with students, families, and staff."
My child will miss his big smile and personality. Principal Rodgers had a lot of strengths, but her lackluster personality was uninspiring. The community deserves a rounded principal, we agree on that. Let's hope next time they get it right. Btw, will the district appoint a new principal or will there be a new hiring team?
The community also deserves accurate and prompt information. Communication is a HUGE fail again and again.

Angela said…
He was in over his head.

He's new, in COVID, entering a hostile/toxic/divided community generations in the making. The building floods? And he's essentially alone. It takes time to build a team in the best of circumstances, and we're not going to give him 100 days?

If the kids liked him, that should be enough for us to pause and listen and at least ask some questions. They were so frustrated by the wall of "oh we hear you but there are things in motion you don't understand" they received in public forums and private meetings when they had concerns. As adults we know that's the BS involved in all bureaucracies, but there is more here than red tape. The kids knew it, and even the adults could smell it.

"Did not possess a growth mindset to adapt to his repeated mishandling's of administrative duties?" That was not my experience of him. He had a great newsletter and someone suggested he do it differently so it was easier for them to read (smh) and he did. My student brought concerns as part of a group, and there were immediate changes.

"Toxic positivity..." I'll stop there. What you are saying as "Teacher and Alum" is shocking. Thank you so much for expressing your thoughts so that the rest of us can see what Principal Hollins was up against every day. Very helpful.

We are not moving forward without Mr. Hollins. Either he'll be back, or we're going full view of our young people.

Angela Graham

Anonymous said…
Principals are leaving the profession in droves. Why? They can't be all things to all people. Excellent school leaders recognize their strengths alongside their weaknesses and have to be willing to accept they will not be everyone's cup of tea. However, the job has become impossible to manage in the last many years, and increasingly parents and communities have placed additional feelings of responsibility for so many aspects of students' lives on the school, which often end up falling on the Principal. SPS is notorious for providing little support to Principals, especially at high schools where things tend to get political very fast, whether they are brand new to buildings/district or long-time leaders. Feelings of blame for things they may likely be unable to control (sexual assault, online/social media harassment), comments about personalities, feelings by some that they did solve an issue vs others that think they didn't etc. coupled with little to no support, don't exactly make the job real enticing to stick around. I am close to several leaders who have left Seattle. There has to be a concession at some point. At one time not that far back, Seattle HS Principals total service years combined when added up had to have been in the 100s. At this time, I would say it is somewhere in the 30s?
RHS alum said…
Melissa - Your list of alums who recently led Their high school should include former RHS principal Kristina Anderson Rodgers (‘98), along with the men you mention.
Anonymous said…
Anyone knows why principal and assistant principal in Robert Eagle Staff Middle School are leaving as of 7/1/22? We just got an announcement today and it seems kind of sudden.
Anonymous said…
You left out Ray Garcia- Morales at Chief Sealth as an alum who is principal (I met him as Ray-Ray).
Alums who return to lead their high schools are a treasure.

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