Many hard lessons learned by principal decision

From the Publisher
David Keyes
Laurel Outlook publisher

Teaching moments.
Education is all about teaching moments and it appears more than a few people learned a few things this week while many didn’t learn anything.
I will explain.
There are still more questions than answers about the decision to not renew popular Laurel High School principal Ed Norman’s contract. By design, there always will be.
There was a shockwave through the community last week when Supt. Linda Filpula made her recommendation to the school trustees that Norman’s contract not be renewed for next year.
Because Norman is not a tenured employee and is in an administrative position, he is considered a probationary employee and can be released with no cause.
With a 5-2 vote Monday night, the trustees followed Filpula’s recommendation.
The members did so after facing a packed room and hearing from parents, teachers and students who almost unanimously stood in support of Norman.
Two seniors presented a petition signed by hundreds of students in support of their principal.
Under the state rules of the meeting, trustees couldn’t actually look at the names in the petition and audience members were not allowed to speak about the principal’s personality, decisions, leadership qualities or really anything else. Trustee Chairman Doug LeBrun  allowed some leeway but he also followed the letter of the law.
I admired the courage of the students and educators who spoke up at the meeting.

Teaching moments:
• Stand up for what you believe in. Kudos to the students who stood up and spoke in favor of keeping their principal. The dose of civil disobedience with the march on Tuesday morning was also well done. When the senior wrestlers had lunch with the Rotary club on Tuesday, one Rotary member shared that he marched against the Vietnam War and stopped traffic in Seattle. He said he was better for it and it drew attention to an injustice.
• Sometimes life isn’t fair. All a person had to do was catch a glimpse of Norman and his family during the meeting. Whenever a student would speak, his eyes would well up and his wife would grab his hand. After the meeting, parents, students and staff all gave him hugs. This decision blew up a man in the twilight of his career and leaves he and his family in a career and financial mess.
• When you are playing in someone else’s ballpark, you have to play by their rules. These rules are pretty simple: If you are a non-tenured (under three years) employee in an administrative position, you can be released from your contract for no reason. If the letter of the law has been followed, only Filpula knows why Norman’s contract wasn’t renewed: Not the trustees, not fellow educators, not the public and perhaps not even Norman. Remember, the next principal at LHS will be playing by these same rules, with the knowledge of this incident and the track record of a high turnover rate in this district.
• Sometimes you have to rely on blind faith. More than 100 supporters crammed into the administration office to support Norman. Many spoke in favor of keeping him – even though they don’t know why he was being released. They followed their instincts, their interactions and guts to support a person they admire. There is a certain amount of blind faith exhibited by the trustees as well by acting on their new superintendent’s recommendation.

What I learned: Laurel has more pride in its schools than most places. An overriding theme at Tuesday’s meeting was that by releasing Norman, the turnover rate of district employees continues at an unhealthy rate. Many of the comments from parents were punctuated with: “And I vote!”
I will always remember the emotional, cracking voices of students who had the courage to stand up in a large crowd of adults to pledge their support for their principal.
The district leadership is going to have to work extra hard to regain the trust of the vast majority of people who were impacted by this decision. In the meantime, we hope that this display of loyalty and community spirit will act as a reminder the public has a vested interest in making sure we have the best possible education for our children.

David Keyes is publisher of the Laurel Outlook

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