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Restructuring puts Merrell in charge of South Whidbey High and Langley Middle School

Langley Middle School principal Rod Merrell takes a break in the school library the day after being named as principal of both LMS and the high school. - Brian Kelly
Langley Middle School principal Rod Merrell takes a break in the school library the day after being named as principal of both LMS and the high school.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

LANGLEY — In a major reshuffling of administrative posts at the school district, Rod Merrell has been named principal of both Langley Middle School and South Whidbey High School, effective July 1.

He will oversee the planned consolidation of both schools on the high school campus by fall 2012. Jack Terhar will continue to function as Merrell’s assistant (and athletic director) at the middle school, and John Patton will continue to serve the same functions at the high school.

The announcement came on the heels of the resignations of high school principal Rob Prosch for personal reasons and Mike Johnson, director of teaching and learning, who accepted a job with the Arlington School District. As expected, neither position is being filled from outside the district.

If the South Whidbey School District must reinvent itself, let it begin at the top, said District Superintendent Fred McCarthy.

“We are facing a $1.5 million to $1.8 million budget deficit, and reductions in staffing are going to play a major role in saving the district money in the years to come,” McCarthy said.

Personnel costs are roughly 85 percent of the district’s total budget. The shift in administrative duties is expected to save the district upwards of $200,000.

Jamie Boyd remains as principal at South Whidbey Elementary School, but will no longer have assistant principal Scott Mauk on her staff. The elementary school counselor will be supporting her in that role.

Ten years ago, the elementary school had 488 students and one principal; the school currently has 491 and two principals, so Mauk will not return in that position.

Other cutbacks concern the director/teachers of Bayview School and Whidbey Island Academy, whose time has also been cut back for a net reduction from 10.8 to 8.2 full-time administrative employees.

McCarthy will take over Johnson’s learning and curriculum jobs, and business manager Dan Poolman will now also oversee human resources.

The only new hire will be someone to take over Johnson’s duties as special-education director. That person may be hired from within, but the job was posted outside the district.

“The administrators who are left will have a lot more on our plates for the next several years,” McCarthy said. “These are painful, significant reductions, and there will be more to come.”

The prime reason for the changes is the continuing drop in enrollment.

Poolman expects 1,593 students by the end of this school year, dropping to 1,474 by June 2011.

Merrell graduated with an English degree and master’s in curriculum from the University of Washington. He taught English at Issaquah High School before moving to Coupeville High School in 1992.

After a stint as assistant principal in Mountlake Terrace, Merrell was named principal at LMS in 2006. He has a son in college and another is a sophomore at Coupeville High School, while daughter Sophia is an eighth-grader at LMS.

Merrell said the decision to make changes had to come now.

“There are lots of hard decisions on how things will look next year,” he explained.

“I’ll be meeting soon with leadership in both buildings to talk about staffing needs within the framework of the budget shortfall,” Merrell said. “The funding picture at the state level is still unclear, so there’s a lot of uncertainty.

“All school districts are feeling the pain of a budget crunch.”

McCarthy emphasized that the goal of the administration makeover is to operate a lean and focused organization with a priority on high-quality teaching and learning.

On April 15, the first reduction-in-force notices will be sent to teachers, letting them know there might not be a job for them here in the fall.

The final notices will be mailed on May 15.

“Because the school district plans to operate more facilities than are currently needed until 2012, these administrative changes anticipate the needs of the transition,” McCarthy added.

With enrollment continuing to decline, district officials are planning for the worst-case scenario.

And as LMS and the high school continue the march toward consolidation, Merrell knows he has work to do.

“The better and more efficient we can be with the resources in hand, the better the chance of keeping a quality staff,” he said.

“I work every day with teachers who spend long hours with their students and care deeply about education.”

The South Whidbey School Board will next meet to discuss budget issues at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday,

April 14 in the elementary school community room on Maxwelton Road in Langley.

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