2018-06-29 / Front Page

Board names interim principal

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Ongoing efforts launched by host of Scarborough parents and school officials to retain the town’s high school principal ended up for naught Tuesday, as the school board voted to name a replacement.

That new face is a familiar one, but one that will be at the forefront for just one year. The move is designed, officials say, as a calming measure designed to bring stability to a school district embroiled in controversy.

Following a 20-minute executive session to start its June 26 meeting, the board voted to name Assistant Principal Susan Ketch to the top job for the 2018-2019 school year. Ketch, a former music teacher, has held the rudder at Scarborough High School as assistant principal for more than a quarter century, starting in the role part-time in 1992, then taking on the task full time in 1997, alongside a role as director of the school’s alternative education program.

During her tenure, Ketch has seen a series of principals come and go, including four since 2005 — a 13-year period that has also witnessed the transition of four school superintendents.

“She has assisted in the smooth transitions of many new administrators at the high school,” superintendent Julie Kukenberger said, following Ketch’s appointment. “She is always empathetic and compassionate, and staff, students, families and administrators respect and admire her caring and professional attitude.”

“I think this is a wise move,” longtime school board member Jacquelyn Perry, said. “I think she has the educational background and credentials, and has proven her leadership, her creativity, and her concern. I am proud that she will accept this interim position.”

After the school board hired guidance counselor Patricia Conant to lead the high school in 2006, then elected not to renew her contract in 2010, the school experienced two sudden resignations, filed under mysterious circumstances.

First was Conant’s immediate replacement Dean Auriemma, who left in January 2013. Then came David Creech, who resigned unexpectedly in February, effective June 30. Creech would later request to rescind his resignation, while his wife posted online her claim that Kukenberger forced him out. The refusal of Kukenberger and the school board to accept Creech back into the fold prompted an outpouring of public support that culminated in a May 8 recall election that ousted school board members Cari Lyford and Jodi Shea, along with board chairman Donna Beeley.

According to Kukenberger, 19 applications were submitted to replace Creech. A 14-member search committee interviewed four of those candidates, but closed up shop two weeks ago rather than recommend any for a second meeting.

School board member Leanne Kazilionis, who served on the search committee, reported to the full board June 21 that the group advised hiring an interim, rather than reopen the search.

“Each of the candidates had something unique to offer,” Kazilionis said, reading from a prepared statement. “We unanimously agreed that the one-year interim principal was recommended and (that we) preferred to look internally to fill that role, that someone who knew our high school, our students, and staff would be our preference.”

Kazilionis said that if no in-house candidate would take the helm, the committee agreed to reconvene to interview external candidates for the one-year job.

Among those who urged retaining Creech during Tuesday’s meeting was Huntley Drive resident Matt Sither.

“I think there is a huge opportunity tonight to turn this community around,” he said. “Some students lost a principal they largely respect and admire. We found out last week he will be replaced by nobody, and then tonight that there will be a temporary placeholder, which I can’t imagine is in anybody’s best interests.

“The community has been in turmoil for months. It would be nice to see all of this end,” he said, claiming some staffers were “in tears” at a faculty meeting last week.

“I think literally thousands of Scarborough residents think the solution is obvious,” Sither said. “It would finally allow this community to breath a giant, collective sigh of relief and move forward together. I won’t say his name, because we’re not supposed to say names, but you know what needs to be done.”

Renee Richardson, the high school’s band director, acknowledged, “things have been pretty tough.”

“I was pretty sad to leave school this year feeling like I had no reason to want to come back in the fall,” she said.

“I have heard over and over, please know that we have our students’ best interests at heart,” said Ruth Hughes of High Point Road. “I truly believe that or you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, but honestly, I am beginning to lose faith. If you truly do have the best interests of the students at heart, please do what is right by them — give them their principal back.”

“This board always references that children’s interests come first,” said David Cleary of Meeting House Road. “But I have never seen anything in a our community like children, young adults, advocating for their wishes (only) to be absolutely ignored by the first mandate of this board. These kids know who their principal is and who that principal should be.

“The only thing standing in the way of their interests coming first is this board. You have an individual whose career is at stake and the clock is ticking, who shouldn’t have have been in the position he is in. So, do the right thing.”

But the pleas to reinstate Creech were not to be.

Upon Kukenberger announcing Ketch’s reassignment, Cleary returned to the podium to shout, “You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” before storming from the room.

For her part, Ketch told the board, as well as an audience of about 35, that she will “give it my best.”

“I have been thinking a lot about believing,” she said. “I believe in the students. No question, they’re amazing in every way. I believe in the faculty and the staff. Whether they are bringing students to school safely, feeding them, taking care of their health and well-being, or educating them in classes, I believe in every one of them and what they do.

“I believe in the administrative team that I am so lucky to work with and all the things they give and give and give to make sure things work really well for our schools. I believe in the central office staff and all they do to dedicate their efforts to what’s best for our students. And I believe in the community. I have been here for a long time.

“I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful people and I hope this (next) year will be continuation of that,” Ketch said. “I thank you for putting your faith in me.”

After the unanimous vote to in favor of Ketch, the four remaining school board members went into a second closed session “for discussions concerning the superintendent’s contract/evaluation.”

The board held a similar closed-door meeting at its June 21 session.

Kukenberger was hired in 2016 and contract expires June 30, 2019.


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