Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Puzzling Principal Decisions

Eleven Ann Arbor principal assignments were announced this week

There are clearly a lot of politics going on behind the scenes, so to analyze the changes, I'll start with the ones that make sense to me.
  • Ann Arbor Open School — Kit Flynn, the media specialist at Ann Arbor Open.
This makes sense because Kit Flynn has been the interim principal on and off, as well as the lead teacher for several years. She also had a lot of support from parents and staff, who wanted someone who really understood open education.
  • Bryant Elementary SchoolRoberta Heyward, the interim principal at Bryant and a teacher at the school.
This makes sense to me because Roberta Heyward has been the interim principal and a teacher at the school.
  • Forsythe Middle SchoolJohn Reece, assistant principal at Pioneer High School.
This is a product of the elimination of some of the (grade-level) principals at the high school level. Pioneer and Huron each lost a principal (see Burns Park down below, which got an assistant principal who was bumped from Huron High School). Skyline High School was prevented from adding a principal. I believe that John Reece is filling a position at Forsythe left open by retirement.

Eberwhite Elementary School has a new principal in Bill Harris, the district’s assistant director of special education. At one point, Bill was an assistant principal at Scarlett, but perhaps he didn't want to go back to middle school. I am under the impression that the special ed parents like him. Special education is another area that has had a lot of turnover, so I hope they find someone good to replace him!

So--now we come to the puzzles. And there are some puzzles.

It's confusing, but in this discussion the schools to keep your eyes on are Mitchell and Carpenter (especially Mitchell). Also keep an eye on Haisley, which I heard did not send any representatives to the large group interviews of "teachers who were interested in becoming principals." And at the time, people wondered why that was. Now I wonder if the Haisley teachers and parents weren't given any choice.

  • Burns Park Elementary SchoolVirginia Bell, assistant principal at Huron High School.
On the surface, this is a product of the elimination of principal positions at the high school.  But why is the Burns Park principal position open? That is because Kathy Morhous, current principal at Burns Park, has been assigned to King Elementary.

Well, why is that?

Kevin Karr has been the principal of King (and before that he was a principal and a teacher at Northside.) And according to published reports, people thought that he kept bullying "under control" at Northside and was a strong manager. So perhaps that is why he is getting assigned to Mitchell, which is a) a Title 1 school (in other words, there are a lot of poor kids there) with b) poor test scores--perhaps the lowest in the district--and c) about to undergo a major transformation in the the "lab school" partnership with Scarlett Middle School.

This carousel only makes sense because... at Haisley, they've got a new principal assigned to them as well. And as noted above, I understand they weren't part of the larger interview process--probably because they had already been told that  Kathy Scarnecchia, current special administrator working on the Mitchell/Scarlett - University of Michigan Partnership and former principal at Mitchell was being moved to them. You might wonder why she wasn't returned to Mitchell. Yeah, you might. Could it be because Mitchell's MEAP scores are dropping? I've certainly heard rumblings of dissatisfaction from parents there. She may be a better curriculum-planner than administrator. Oh wait--if that is the case, why is she going to another school? Or perhaps that is not the case--perhaps she is a strong administrator--I am very clearly speculating here. (On the other hand--interesting factoid--she was actually a student at Haisley once upon a time. So perhaps she requested that post.)

Meanwhile, Edward Broom has been the interim principal at Mitchell, and now he's going back to Scarlett as an assistant principal again. Did he prefer middle school? Why wasn't he made the permanent principal at Mitchell? Or perhaps--with the ongoing lab school partnership--and the relatively small number of students at Scarlett--they could have used this as an opportunity to cut costs and not replaced the assistant principal at Scarlett. Just a thought... (I digress here but I think if they are going to do the lab school, they could consider all moving into one building.)

Meanwhile, Haisley is a school that has had its own fairly recent principal turnover. In the 2008-2009 school year, Tamber Woodworth went from principal at Haisley Elementary School to an assistant principal position at Pioneer. (She was then the interim principal at Pioneer while Michael White was on military leave, and is now at Ann Arbor Open until she retires in June.) Meanwhile, Mary Anne Jaeger, the former principal at Dicken Elementary School who was on leave in the 2007-2008 school year, took over for Tamber Woodworth at Haisley. She is also retiring.

But wait! Why didn't they put... Charles Davis, the lead teacher at Haisley Elementary School, in the principal position there, as they did at Ann Arbor Open or Bryant? 

Instead, they moved him to a school on the other side of the district--Carpenter.

Meanwhile, a teacher who has been at Carpenter--Natasha York--gets moved to be the principal at Thurston...

Does it make sense to you? Not to me. Which is why I'm sure there are other forces at play.


  1. As a Burns Park parent, it's still a mystery to us. Burns Park teachers found out about the move about two hours before parents, and we got the note from Mrs. Morhous just a couple of hours before the district sent a message introducing her replacement.

    At no time was anyone from BP asked to be a part of any process. This was done by administrative fiat.

    We also weren't impressed that the message from the district said nothing about Mrs. Morhous' eleven years of service to our school.

    Most BP parents feel Mrs. Morhous has done a great job leading the school, and has been especially active in less visible ways to make sure every child is given every opportunity to succeed. BP has a reputation as a "wealthy" school, which is partly true, but with a 13% free and reduced lunch population, we are well above many other schools in the district. We also have the third-largest native Spanish speaking population in the district. Mrs. Morhous has been key to our efforts to embrace every child and give every family a stake in the school. She will be sorely missed.

    It would have been easier to understand asking her to move to, say, Carpenter, where the excellent Ron Collins is retiring. And I'm sure Kevin Karr will be great at Mitchell. We just don't understand why Kathy Morhous gets shifted to King as part of this process.

    - a BP parent

  2. Change is good, and should be embraced...

  3. Usually, when an employee gets abruptly shuffled from a post they like, it's because the administration is displeased with that person, maybe even hoping they will leave the system. Don't know, but things happen behind closed doors for a reason, and maybe it's best people don't know why people got reassigned. Privacy is a precious commodity.

  4. Anon, I agree that change can be good. Hem12, sometimes people get moved because the administration is unhappy with them, and sometimes I think it is the opposite--that they are very happy with them and see them as problem-solvers--so they move them into an area where they need some problems solved. It's not always a negative.
    And although I agree that privacy is a precious commodity, in some cases that is--and should--get overshadowed by the rights of the families and teachers that principals serve. If a principal is unable to do the job properly, rather than moving him or her from school to school, he/she either needs more training and support, or to be moved out of the principal role.
    Part of working for the public sector means that some things are made public that would--in the private sector--be private. Take, for instance, the fact that you can look up the salary of every University of Michigan or Washtenaw County employee, no matter the person's rank.

  5. Perhaps the answers can be partially found in this article, "We will do better" at Mitchell Elementary. I wonder if Kevin Karr speaks Spanish?

  6. Haisley parents and teachers were not given a choice or a voice. A principal was assigned- we found out who the same day as the rest of the district. We were told we would have a voice and did not. The vast majority at our school backed Mr Davis for our post, but as I understand it he did not have the seniority to stay with us. There is quite a bit of ire surrounding this. Carpenters gain is our loss.

  7. Ruth -- your coverage of the local school scene is much appreciated.

  8. You're welcome:) Thanks for commenting!