2018-02-23 / Front Page

Principal resigns, questions ensue

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

David Creech David Creech A day after parents and staff came before the board of education Feb. 15 to share their concerns about a change in school start time next school year and the board finalized the 2019-2019 school calendar and discussed results of the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, Scarborough High School principal David Creech resigned from his position, effective June 30.

Creech, a former math teacher and assistant principal at Kennebunk High School, was hired in June 2013 to replace former high school principal Dean Auriemma.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said she could not provide specifics about the resignation.

“I understand that this news may be surprising to some of our community members. This (is) a personnel matter. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the details. Please know that our students’ best interests are always at the center of our work,” she wrote in an email to the Leader.

“As with any school leader resignation, questions, concerns and rumors can develop. I wish to assure everyone that we are proud of the education we provide to our young people,” Donna Beeley, school board chairman said in a statement to the Leader. “The board, the superintendent, administrators and teaching staff will continue to focus on our students who are entrusted to our care. We will continue to make the good progress we are already making. Our students will remain our primary focus every day.”

In a statement to the Leader, Creech said “it has been an honor and privilege to serve as principal of Scarborough High School for the past five years and I am sorry that my service to the school will have to end this way.”

“I am very proud of Scarborough High School. I love our students and staff. I greatly appreciate (Scarborough High School) families and the support given by the Scarborough community,” he wrote.

Creech’s wife Michelle indicated in a Facebook post that it was not her husband’s choice to resign.

“He loves the staff, students and parents of SHS and does not want to leave. He is heartbroken and wants everyone to know how much he appreciates the support,” she wrote.

While members of the board are not talking about the specifics of the resignation, they did release a statement earlier this week indicating they have heard the "outpouting of emotion over recent events" and are "focused on repairing the hurt and confusion in our community." The board, according to the statement is "exploring every available option in order to bring us back together as a community who believes in our schools."

"The members of the Board of Education are your neighbors and co-workers; people who believe strongly in the power of public education. We are all working to give the children of Scarborough every opportunity to succeed in whatever path they choose. We understand the frustration regarding our inability to make more specific comments on recent events but it is our hope that we can come together, and come to an understanding that we all have the best interests of our students and our town at heart."

The news has not sat well with a number of parents and community members. An event to protest the resignation in support of Creech is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 26, the first day students are back from February vacation.

There have also been discussions online by some to explore ways to remove Kukenberger and recall board of education members. Town charter states any 25 voters can initiate a petition to recall an elected official which needs to include the petitioners names, addresses and reasons for the recall. The petition must include the signatures of at least 25 percent of number of voters who cast a ballot in the last gubernatorial election and is then reviewed by the town clerk and if the petition meets the requirements, the town council is alerted and the subject of the petition is notified.

The individual could resign or if he or she chooses not to, a recall election would be in order and the individual would appear before the town council to respond to the reasons for recall on the petition. A town-wide election would then ask "Shall (name of elected official) be recalled from the position of (name of position)?"

According to state law, a superintendent can be discharged “for cause, after due notice and investigation and by a majority vote of the full membership of the school board.”

While some community members look into that, Scarborough High School junior Claire Merrill has organized a petition to urge the board of education to not accept Creech’s resignation.

According to school board policy, the board of education does not need to officially accept a resignation for it to be effective.

The policy states, “the board authorizes the superintendent to accept all employee resignations. Such acceptance shall be effective when first communicated to the employee orally or in writing. Acceptance shall be confirmed in writing to the employee. The resignation and its acceptance should be reported as information to the Board at a regular or special meeting.” The administrators contract, which expires and is up for renegotiation at the end of the school year, stipulates, “administrators shall provide at least 30 days notice” if giving notice between Sept. 1 and July 31.

“We stand with Mr. Creech as students of Scarborough High School,” Merrill’s change.org petition reads. “We believe that Superintendent Kukenberger acted in error in calling for his resignation. Principal Creech’s incredible leadership and support of both students and faculty is needed. He is well loved and respected by our student body.”

Melissa Johnson, a petition signer said, “he is what every parent wants in an educator for our children. A class act who truly is there because he wants what is best for the staff and students. My family has experienced first hand what his guidance and leadership can do for a struggling high school student.”

Former students also offered support.

“As a student who was there when Mr. Creech took over as (principal), I witnessed the positive impact he had on the student body as well as the staff. He genuinely cares about the students and takes time out of his day to listen to them and takes what they are saying seriously,” wrote Tristan DeYoung, a 2015 graduate. “This is a rare quality to find in leaders and administration. Supporting Mr. Creech is supporting the best interest of your children and the future of SHS.”

“I’m signing because Mr. Creech brings light and guidance to the SHS community. I attended SHS when Mr. Creech first took over as principal, and the transformation of the school was incredible,” wrote Lauren Douglas, a fellow 2015 graduate. “Students know they can count on him for support when they need him, and the amount of care he has for them is immeasurable. I formed a personal relationship with Mr. Creech during my time at SHS, and I knew that, under his watch and leadership, everyone at the school would be safe and respected. He is an amazing asset to the Scarborough school system, and it is a shame that he is being ripped away from his SHS family.”

Kaitlin Prince, a 2016 graduate is studying to be a teacher and said “I can only hope to work for a principal as awesome as him.”

Staff also support Creech. The Scarborough High School lead teachers requested a meeting this week with the board of education to talk about Creech’s resignation, but the request was denied.

“The teachers at (Scarborough High School) stand united behind David Creech as its principal, now and into the future. Given the overwhelming support from SHS teachers, students, parents, and staff for Principal Creech, it is clear that the only acceptable solution to this crisis is for the school board to reject his resignation. We believe it is time to begin the process of determining how our superintendent has become so out of step with the wishes of the Scarborough school community. We stand ready to work together to help heal from this painful and unnecessary crisis. We ask that the school board takes the proper steps to bring this to an end,” they wrote in a statement.

Creech’s resignation comes on the heels of a school board meeting in which several members of the community implored the board of education to revisit their decision to change the start times at Scarborough’s six schools, a move that would delay the start of high school until 8:50 a.m., middle school until 9 a.m. and cause students in kindergarten to fifth grade to start school at 8 a.m.

Scarborough parent David Cleary said he is looking for a more reasonable compromise.

“Have you considered, while a worthy goal, this many not work for this community,” he said.

Cleary said this decision has left people angry and frustrated.

Jeannine Pendergast, who bought a home on Phinneas Lane 2.5 years ago because of the school system, said the decision the board has made “is extremely counterproductive to the success of our students and schools.”

Diana Nelson, who like Pendergast moved to Scarborough for the school system and the town’s natural resources, said she supports the board’s right to change start times to give adolescence more time to sleep, but “this isn’t the right plan.”

“I believe we have chosen the wrong plan for Scarborough. I really do. I know we are pretty far along, but it is never too late to turn back when you are faced with something that seems insurmountable,” Nelson said.

Sonya Serafin said changing the primary schools start time to 8 a.m. will not allow her son, a first-grader at Blue Point Primary School, get the recommended amount of sleep at night and cut into his opportunities for after-school activities.

Scarborough Middle School world language teacher Justin Stebbins, president of the Scarborough Education Association, said representatives of the association who work under professional or education support professional contracts met Jan. 23 to talk about the change and vote whether they support the change. Overwhelmingly, Stebbins said, the 106 members present did not.

“The association believes that it is not the right time to implement this dramatic a shift in school start time,” Stebbins told board of education members Feb. 15. “Further, the membership of the association requests that the school board give serious consideration to their voice and delay the implementation until such a time there is a definite Scarborough connection to the research and a thorough, thoughtful plan that has been vetted by a representative amount of staff before it goes into action.”

“The teachers, who know the students the best, are adamantly against this,” said Doug Bennett, a Scarborough Middle School social studies teacher and high school girls’ soccer coach, who suggested changing the start times at the high school and middle school by 30 to 45 minutes (instead of the hour and fifteen minutes) might be the way to go.

“After hearing all the concerns you have heard, I don’t know how you couldn’t revisit the issue,” he said, adding he worries how a later dismissal for student athletes would impact their practice schedules and ability to get to games without having the be dismissed early.

Kimberly Cornwall, of Hidden Creek Drive, said she originally thought students would support a later start time, but if an April 27, 2017 board of education meeting is any indication, it is not what students want. At that meeting, four high school students share their concerns and indicated their peers were too opposed to changing the times.

Not all speakers at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting were against the school board’s decision. Lisa Douglas, who has had two children go through the system and are now juniors in college, thanked the board for their efforts in making the change.

Douglas, a kindergarten teacher for the last 15 years, said her students are ready to learn in the morning, but by early afternoon their stamina is gone. An earlier start time for her students would mean more “optimal learning time.”

“To grab more optimal time would benefit the students, no question about it,” she said.

Corey Fravert, who has an 8-year-old and 14-year-old in the Scarborough school system and works at the director of neurosciences at Maine Medical Center, supports the board’s decision.

He said it is not how much students sleep, but rather when they sleep that is important.

“Our children are under a lot of pressure. Anything we can do to help our young adults get more sleep at the right time, we need to do it,” he said. “We will figure the rest out.”

The school department has organized a meeting next month that is focused on addressing the 2018-2019 start time schedule. Red Storm Brainstorm will be held Monday, March 12 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Wentworth School cafeteria. The evening will feature information about why the decision is being made, a chance for community members to share in small groups dilemmas they may face with the start time change and a panel discussion with sleep experts and superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and student from districts that have already changed school start times.

More information and how to register for the event can be found at http://www.scarboroughschools.org/news/savethedatemarch122018.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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