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School District defends policy in principal appointments

Leslie Jewkes, center, conducts a meeting at Bruin Point.

Sun Advocate publisher

Parents in the East Carbon area and some educators in the Carbon School District were upset last month when principal Melissa Bueno was transferred from Bruin Point Elementary School to Wellington Elementary with little warning to the staff at the school, the students or the parents.

Parents and students largely said that they didn't want to lose Bueno. Some educators around the district were perplexed about the way the entire thing was handled, partly because it moved so quickly.

"We followed our policy on the transfer and the subsequent filling of the Bruin Point principal's position," said Robert Cox, Carbon School District's administrator over human resources on Tuesday during an interview. "When Kelly Martinez resigned at Wellington Elementary to go to work in the Clark County Nevada schools, we had an opening we had to fill and we did it."

Some complaints had come from school district personnel that first the job at Wellington was not offered in any kind of advertising within the district and that the subsequent selection of Leslie Jewkes as the new principal of Bruin Point overlooked a number of people. But Cox maintained that things were done right, albeit fast. "The first thing we did was to contact all the present elementary principals to see if any of them wanted to move from their present positions to Wellington Elementary," stated Cox. "Missy (Bueno) said that she wanted to do that and we had no other takers. So we decided to let her transfer."

Cox said that the filling of a principal's job in the middle of the school year is a tough thing for the district and for anyone who accepts the job to go through. Most principals are assigned to a school at the beginning of the summer and they have time to get used to the building and the operation of that school before the students return in the fall. He said the district administration felt lucky that an experienced principal wanted to go to the school, because it has twice the size of faculty and the building is much larger than what Bueno had been managing in Sunnyside.

Cox also pointed out that as soon as the Bruin Point principal made her intentions known, Patsy Bueno, the acting superintendent, Missy Bueno's mother, recused herself from any dealings with the situation. The transfer was handled by other administrators, headed up by Joan Atwood, the elementary school supervisor.

"Once Missy had spoken with Joan, Joan decided that would be a good way to go," said Cox.

Then the problem came of filling the Bruin Point spot.

"We sat down as an administration and looked around the district for who was qualified both by way of experience and in certification," said Cox. "There were a number of people in the district that had the certification to fill the job, but most of them had experience either totally or mostly in secondary education. Jewkes on the other hand had 30 years of elementary experience and the certification to go along with it. Joan went to the Superintendent and told her our choice and the Superintendent asked Leslie if she would like the position. Leslie said yes and so the Superintendent assigned her to Bruin Point."

However, some felt that while the district did follow the letter of the law, they ignored the spirit of involving other possibly qualified people in the process.

"You can go by the letter of the law, which the district did, but what you will end up with is a demoralized staff and the feeling that teachers in this district and in fact in the entire state are second class citizens," said Jim Thompson, president of the Carbon Education Association in a phone interview on Wednesday morning. "If they had simply posted the position at Bruin Point, put in an interim principal during the absence, and then interviewed people who applied, it would have led to a better situation."

Thompson said that he thought there was a good chance that Jewkes would have received the position anyway. But he also said it just would have been good for district personnel if the district had done things differently.

"Leslie Jewkes is a wonderful teacher and she was well qualified," he said. "But what I am speaking for concerning the teachers in this district is the process. I have trouble with the process that was used, not the selection that was made."

Atwood defended the way the things progressed by explaining that they already knew the pool of candidates in the district because of the opening at Creekview Elementary last summer.

"When Creekview opened we posted it within the policy guidelines and actually went through two rounds of interviews," she explained. "We interviewed a number of candidates including Leslie, who went through both rounds. We knew the people in the district who had the qualifications and reflected upon those when we were making this decision."

Jewkes was not hired for that position at that time. Instead the district went outside and hired John Thomas who came to Carbon from Tooele School District.

Based on the district's assessment, as Cox stated, no one in the district had a combination of elementary experience and the certifications needed like Jewkes did. Cox also went on to explain the differences between managing an elementary school and a secondary school.

"I understand this because until I got into the district office I had no experience even being in an elementary school," he said. "All my time had been spent in secondary schools. They are very different from each other, especially in how you deal with students."

The Sun Advocate obtained a copy of the district's policy on administrative hiring, transfer and reduction in force procedures. While the actual hiring process is a more drawn out procedure, the transfer and appointing of qualified applicants to administrative positions seems to have been basically followed in the Wellington/Bruin Point situation. At the beginning of the policy there is a provision that allows expedient handling of openings. It states "The district office shall advertise administrative vacancies. However, the district office shall not be required to advertise administrative vacancies filled through involuntary or through voluntary transfers of administrators currently assigned to similar positions in the district."

Cox maintained that the emails to current elementary principals was an advertisement of the Wellington opening to all those who would be qualified.

"As for the Bruin Point opening, Jewkes had the certification and the best experience within the district to fill that position."

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