Thursday’s DJUSD Board meeting got off to a late start as more than 70 Davis High School teachers and others showed up during closed session to protest an outside hire of a new principal for DHS. Ten teachers spoke on behalf of Tom McHale, the interim principal who has been at the school for 24 years.
The teachers are concerned that the new hire will be the sixth principal at the site in the last ten years, with many of the previous principals being outside hires who used the position as a stepping stone. Winfred Roberson was principal for just a year before being named as Superintendent, while Will Brown was principal for four years before taking a job outside of the area.
The board met in closed session until 8:40 pm on Thursday. As public comment began, Board President Tom Adams announced that the board had decided to postpone action on the hiring of the DHS principal.
Kelly MacInturf sent the district a letter and shared it during public comment. She stated, “I wish to express my disappointment in the hiring process as well as what I feel to be an incorrect choice for our next principal at Davis Senior High School.”
She noted that Tom McHale stepped up to fill in as principal “at the expense of his own summer plans” after Will Brown’s abrupt departure last summer. She said, “He did so because of his unwavering commitment to our school.”
The teachers met with Associate Superintendent Matt Best in September and decided to leave Mr. McHale in place as interim to discuss in January what the future would look like. But at that point, she said, “the process lost its transparency.”
They received a survey in early February, she said, the results of which were never shared by the administration. In mid-February, the teachers at DHS were informed that the district would be going through the formal hiring process.
“Does this mean the majority of stakeholders at Davis Senior High School replied and stated that they did not wish for only Tom (McHale) to be considered?” she asked. “Or did the lack of response without us understanding what that could mean facilitate the decision to open the position?”
She noted that based on the number of colleagues that since responded, she said, “you can surmise that was not the position we intended to communicate.”
She believes that by March 1, “the district had already decided what it wanted.”
She continued that the administration could not give the teachers a straight answer for what their vision for DHS was. She concluded, “I feel that by not hiring Tom as principal, the district is continuing to demonstrate a lack of respect for educators which makes me wonder if DJUSD is the place for me to teach long term.”
Sherri Sandberg said that once the teachers learned of this decision at the staff meeting on Wednesday, “it was dead silent. People were crying and afterwards people got angry.”
She talked about the way Mr. McHale handled some of the racial concerns on campus from the fall, listening to input from the teachers to improve the response.
Jacob Moore said that Tom McHale as vice principal and interim principal “is somebody who on a very personal level been there to support me. He has come to my classroom countless times to have one-on-one conversations with me and offer me his support – whenever other administrators were unable to do so.”
He said, “I strongly believe that Tom McHale is the leader that our school needs.”
Holly Istas read her own letter stating that, when Will Brown stepped down, “the district had a distinct opportunity to change course and end the practice of hiring principals who were merely using Davis High as a stepping stone in their careers and to hire Tom McHale, a person who has devoted most of his career to the students of Davis High and the people of the Davis Community.”
She said that the school needs someone with leadership and vision, as Mr. McHale has provided. “But our school also needs someone with institutional knowledge, with empathy, and with knowledge of our school and community and someone who is committed to serving both for the long haul.”
She feels that the decision sent a clear message that the teachers’ input “was not valued, that surveys and meetings were just lipservice and the district office was going to do what it wanted to do regardless of how it impacted the teachers, students and staff.”
She said, “Today the teachers and staff are demoralized, defeated and angry. They feel betrayed and let down because the district is doing again what it has done before – hiring someone from the outside who will come in with an agenda and who will leave in a couple of years after they get a better job offer at another school.”
Karin Swenson, a senior at Davis High, offered a contrary opinion. He said that students feel that the school has treated them in a similar way to how the teachers feel treated by the district. “As students, our opinions are not heard in the way they’ve been recently.”
He said that “the administration has made an attempt to just squash (traditions) in a way that has not been beneficial for students. They seem unwilling to hear concerns from us as students for why these changes are not good for us.”
He said, “I would like to offer my support for looking for new candidates for Davis High School Principal.”
He said there have been many instances “where as a school we’ve made decisions as a student body, these decisions have not been respected by the administration. I feel that there has been a general lack of respect from the administration for students.”
Susan Strachan is a DHS Parent on the PTA Board for three years, the last two as President. She thanked the board for removing the item from the consent agenda. She said, “(I) hope that means that decision is going to be reconsidered.” She said, “I was absolutely baffled when I heard that Tom was not being considered for that position before the board tonight.”
She talked about his experience and connections to the community. She said, “I think that with my experience working with him… that he needs to be the principal at DHS.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting