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UPDATE | Merrell to leave post at LMS, SWHS

Principal Rod Merrell sits in as a judge as students in Langley Middle School’s boxing fitness program undergo skills testing on Thursday. Merrell has announced his departure as the head of LMS and South Whidbey High School. He will take over as principal at Mount Vernon High School in July. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Principal Rod Merrell sits in as a judge as students in Langley Middle School’s boxing fitness program undergo skills testing on Thursday. Merrell has announced his departure as the head of LMS and South Whidbey High School. He will take over as principal at Mount Vernon High School in July.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — The South Whidbey School District is losing another key leader.

Rod Merrell, the principal at South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School, has been offered the job of principal at Mount Vernon High School.

Merrell has accepted the position, and will leave his two principal posts on the South End on June 30. It’s the same day that Superintendent Fred McCarthy will retire.

It will be a big switch for Merrell. Mount Vernon High School, a ninth- through 12th-grade school, has an enrollment of roughly 1,800 students — which is more students than attend schools in the entire South Whidbey School District.

While many are sad to see him go, Merrell’s colleagues also said he’s well-suited for the new challenge.

“He’s very deserving of this opportunity,” said Jack Terhar, dean of students and athletic director at LMS. “I think that Mount Vernon’s gain is our loss.”

Terhar said the principal of any school sets the tone, and he praised Merrell for his decision-making skills and his collaborative nature.

“He has been a consistent voice for putting the quality of instruction in the classroom. That’s where the rubber meets the road,” Terhar added.

Merrell took over as principal of SWHS in July 2010 as part of the South Whidbey district’s restructuring effort that was spurred by declining enrollment, but he continued to serve as principal at Langley Middle School, where he took over that school’s top spot in 2006.

A former English teacher at Issaquah High School, Merrell worked at Coupeville High School in the early 1990s. He was also an assistant principal in Mountlake Terrace before becoming principal at LMS.

“It’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” Merrell said of the principal’s job in Mount Vernon.

Merrell said he learned a lot while serving in his first principal’s position at LMS, including some hard lessons.

“I certainly learned about downsizing, and how painful that is,” he said.

“We’ve cut $3.5 million to $4 million in the five years that I’ve been here. And that’s tough.”

He said he probably hired 25 teachers during the two years he was an assistant principal in Mountlake Terrace.

“In the five years that I’ve been at Langley ... I think I’ve hired four teachers. And I’ve seen a lot leave.”

He’s also had to learn how to toggle between the high school and middle school, and acknowledged that being principal at both schools meant he was spending less time in the classroom and getting to know students. It’s left him struggling to remember some of the names of this year’s sixth-graders.

Merrell also said he was leaving with some unfinished business behind him.

“I still think we could do better with student achievement. I don’t think educators are ever satisfied,” he added. “Until all kids are meeting standard, how can you be satisfied?”

If there are other regrets, they may just be the things that attract a new person to the principal’s post.

“We have great kids in this community. This community is so supportive of its schools,” Merrell said. “And we have a really good teaching staff here.”

“I’ll miss the people here,” he said.

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