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Teachers petition in protest of superintendent finalists

Teachers at the South Whidbey schools are saying give Sally Harrison a chance.

They are petitioning to have the former Intermediate School principal on the short list for the superintendent’s job. Harrison, who served as principal from 1988 to 1991, was among the seven finalists for the job, but failed to make this week’s final round of interviews.

About 15 teachers signed the two-page petition, which was written by Intermediate School teacher Rene Neff. Teachers plan to present the petition to the South Whidbey Board of Education Wednesday. The school board plans to pick a new superintendent after a closed-door executive session on Thursday.

The teachers’ petition also takes issue with the hiring process; some teachers have said the hiring process was not inclusive enough.

Many teachers were shocked not to find Sally Harrison on the list of final three candidates for superintendent, said fellow-teacher Jackie Gelston.

“She is world class,” Neff said.

Board member Helen Price Johnson was the only member available in the district Tuesday afternoon. She had not seen the petition yet and did not want to comment on it until the board had the opportunity to read it.

Harrison served as the first principal of the Intermediate School and hired a number of teachers who are still working in the district. She has classroom experience as well as an extensive administrative background. Harrison has also served on an international committee on curriculum, and has handled budget issues and demonstrated leadership on many levels, Neff said.

But more importantly, she knows the district and its challenges, Neff said.

“She has a history with the district,” Neff said.

Neff and the other teachers who signed the petition have asked the school board to reconsider the decision and include Harrison to the list of final candidates.

Harrison is well respected by the local teachers.

“Many of us have worked with her and known her for many years,” Neff said.

Sandy Gilbert, a teacher at Langley Middle School, said she was delighted when Harrison made the final seven.

“But when I opened my e-mail from board member Helen Price Johnson, and Sally wasn’t on the list, I was shocked, many of us are,” Gilbert said.

“She built a beautiful school and worked so hard. She was such a super principal, a great leader. She would make a great superintendent,” Gilbert said.

“Out of respect they should have included her on the final list,” she said.

Gilbert and the other teachers say they don’t want the process circumvented; they just want Harrison to have an opportunity to participate.

The teachers say their move to petition the board is not meant to be disrespectful to the other candidates.

“The other candidates might be fantastic, but we just don’t know them,” Gelston said.

Further, the teachers are concerned that the process did not include enough input from teachers, Gelston said.

Superintendent Bob Brown, who was not part of the hiring process, said the hiring process has been fair.

“The board has a hiring process in place for the selection of the superintendent. The process is being overseen by a highly respected consultant, John Fotheringham of Northwest Leadership Associates,” Brown said. “I do think the process is fair and above board.”

The hiring process began in October when the board hired Fotheringham to conduct a search. A brochure was created, with public and staff input outlining challenges facing the district and the qualities and attributes the community wanted in the new superintendent.

About 82 staff and community members filled out that initial questionnaire. Fotheringham said at the time that it was a good response.

But some teachers are saying the process did not go far enough.

Neff said teachers were asked to fill out a questionnaire, but no open forum was held to help people learn more about what the community wanted to see in a superintendent.

“Teachers are a valuable resource in this district and since we are working every day with students doing our very best to carry out the district, state and federal goals, we have a valuable perspective,” Neff wrote in the letter to the board.

Gelston said she learned about the exclusion of Harrison through an e-mail that was send to teachers earlier this week. She said she was puzzled by the decision.

“We don’t agree with how this was handled,” she said.

Teachers also criticized that only one teacher out of 15 members was placed on the selection committee, she said.

On Saturday, the board interviewed seven candidates in a daylong executive session. From those seven, three were selected for the final selection process, which includes spending a day in the district with staff and community members.

The three finalists are David Peterson, assistant superintendent of the Oak Harbor, school district; Dr. Fred McCarthy, principal and development director of St. Benedict School and former assistant superintendent in Stellacoom and Maryville school districts; and Dan Chaplick, superintendent, Republic School District.

Each of the three candidates will spend a day meeting with school officials.

Those daylong sessions wrap up Thursday. The sessions are closed to public, except for 10 observers; one each from the administration and the district office, two from the PTA, one each from the three labor unions representing district employees, and two community members and the superintendent’s secretary.

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