Monkton principal’s future is uncertain

MONKTON — The Monkton Central School board will hold a special meeting to hear from the public and discuss whether or not to renew the contract of the school’s principal.
The renewal of Principal Susan Stewart’s contract is being closely watched by some in the community after about half of the teachers at the school left at the end of the last school year.
The special meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Stewart’s contract was on the agenda for the board’s March 19 meeting, but the board decided not to act at that time.
Chair Dawn Griswold said the board decided to put off deciding on Stewart’s future to allow more time for public discussion, for newer board members to familiarize themselves with the contract process, and because Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent David Adams was not at the meeting. Stewart was also not present.
During the public discussion part of the March 19 meeting several residents and teachers spoke on the topic of Stewart’s contract. Some supported Stewart, who has been principal since 2010, while others raised concerns.
Teacher Virginia McLane, one of a dozen faculty members at the meeting, read a letter asking the board to table the discussion of Stewart’s contract until progress had been made in improving the climate at the school.
Joan Holloway, whose three children attended Monkton Central, on Friday said that she spoke in favor of renewing Stewart’s contract.
“I have been treated respectfully by this principal,” Holloway said. “I think there are many parents that are happy with the school and the principal.”
Holloway said she believed there was still disagreement between teachers and administrators, but that she was unsure how much of that should be attributed to Stewart. Still, she hopes that the two sides can smooth out their differences and create a healthy working relationship.
“I think the school is very important to our community,” Holloway said. “I would hope staff and administration can talk to each other and decide on a strategy to solve mutual difficulties.”
Holloway took issue with what she said was misinformation surrounding the departure of nine faculty members at the conclusion of last year. She pointed out that of that number, two teachers retired, two part-time faculty left for full-time jobs elsewhere, and some moved to take jobs out of state.
“Really, there was one teacher who resigned in a very unprofessional way after publicly stating her reasons,” Holloway said. “All the others got attributed to that cause.”
Gabrielle Jensen, who has two children at Monkton Central, on Friday said that at the meeting she raised concerns about the climate at the school.
“My concern is that there’s a divisiveness between teachers and leadership that affects our children,” Jensen said. “When teachers are unhappy, that trickles down to our children.”
Jensen cited an anonymous survey conducted last spring and endorsed by the state Department of Education in which teachers at Monkton gave poor marks to district administrators.
For example, 63 percent of the school’s faculty, all of whom participated in the survey, marked that they “strongly disagreed” with the statement “There is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect at this school.”
Jensen said she has not seen demonstrable improvement over the last year in the relationship between teachers and administrators.
“Part of my reason for being there was so that the board understands that the concern is that there is a divisiveness between teachers and leadership, and that has not been addressed appropriately,” Jensen said.
Ultimately, Jensen said she hopes the school board does not renew Stewart’s contract.
“I would love to say that things could change, however, we had a year for that to happen, and it didn’t happen, so I would hope to say that it will not be renewed,” Jensen said.
Despite their differences of opinion, both Holloway and Jensen said a special meeting to discuss the principal’s contract is a good idea.
“It will be a helpful to have a meeting,” Jensen said. “I hope we can move forward; I don’t want another year of the same thing.”
Holloway agreed, though she cautioned that such a meeting should not be used to evaluate teachers or the principal.
“I think it good for the board to hear everything people have to say,” Holloway said. “More information is always good.”
The special meeting will be held Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Monkton Central School.

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