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Revolving door of school leadership

High School principal abruptly resigns post

Keith Vandervort
Posted 3/17/16

ELY – The revolving door of Ely School District administration continues to spin this week following the abrupt resignation of High School Principal Mary McGrane.

McGrane’s resignation was …

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Revolving door of school leadership

High School principal abruptly resigns post

Posted

ELY – The revolving door of Ely School District administration continues to spin this week following the abrupt resignation of High School Principal Mary McGrane.

McGrane’s resignation was accepted Monday night by the Ely School Board. Her last day of employment in the district is March 31, some two months before the end of the school year.

Her resignation letter, submitted to Interim Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson on March 10, indicated that she wanted to stay until the end of the month to finish tasks associated with testing, registration scheduling, budget and evaluation.

ISD 696 is also seeking to fill the interim superintendent position with a permanent, part-time superintendent. Abrahamson’s one-year contract expires on June 30.

McGrane did not provide a reason for leaving. Following the school board meeting Monday night, she was asked why she resigned. “For personal reasons,” she said. “I’m staying in the Ely area. I purchased my grandfather’s property up here. I’m not taking another job,” she said. She declined further comment on the record.

Her resignation letter said, “It has been a pleasure working with Ely students. They are a joy and we should always honor their talents and gifts and support their challenges. I have deep respect for the Memorial staff. They are some of the best teachers I’ve had the pleasure to know.”

About 30 people attended the School Board meeting and four people commented on McGrane’s resignation during the open forum portion of the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

Misty Merhar, a parent in the school district, read from a letter parent Brett Ross sent to the School Board. “I struggle to find words to express my severe disappointment to the revolving door of the administration in Ely schools,” Ross wrote. “Particularly distressing to me is the loss of a principal who has had the single-most positive impact on my children of any administrator in their years of school.”

Ross also wrote that school board members “will be hearing the collective loss of faith in the ability of the Ely School Board to retain and develop qualified, talented and effective administrators who serve the best interests of our students. The ongoing and rapid turnover in administration is not only an embarrassment, it is a shameful disservice to the children of our community.”

Ross called for the School Board to immediately address the issues leading up to the latest resignation. He requested a plan from the board on how they will create consistency in the district’s administration. “There is something seriously broken in the leadership of the School Board,” Ross wrote.

Merhar recommended forming a five-person panel to investigate the administrative turnover, “including a teacher, a parent, a community member, a school board member and an athletic coach.”

“We just want to know what’s going on,” she added. “The students are having a hard time with this.”

High School teacher Johnna Suihkonen struggled to read a letter she wrote to the School Board. She recounted that four superintendents and four high school principals have held positions in the four years she has taught in the district.

“To the students who came to me with remarks, like, ‘Ms. McGrane was a really great principal,’ I’m sorry,” Suihkonen said. “I am sorry that I cannot explain why things like this happen. I’m sorry that I do not have the answers to the questions (they) are asking. I’m sorry that you have your faith in another adult that has been pushed out of our school by some unfathomable force. If we cannot support our administrators, our administrators cannot support our teachers.”

Suihkonen proposed that the School Board conduct an exit interview with McGrane.

Parent Mary Schwinghammer spoke through tears, “My heart is broken. My kids’ hearts are broken.”

Parent Paul Kienitz told School Board members, “You need to think about the message you are sending, not just to the community, but to people all around you. If you want to have talent in the schools, think about the culture you have defined here.”

Chairman Marsnik responds

Later in the meeting, school board members voted to accept the high school principal’s resignation. Board Chair Ray Marsnik took the opportunity to comment on the issue.

“In the last few days, we as a board have been hearing a lot about the constant administration turnover and the lack of stability,” he said. “This is also a concern of this school board.”

Marsnik said he is troubled with the blame being put on the board.

“Some of you are pointing fingers. You are saying that this board does not support our administration. You are saying that there is poor leadership on this board, and a number of other things,” he said.

“In the 15 years that I have been on this board, we have had six high school or middle school principals,” he added. “Yes, this is too many, but let’s look at these six. Two of these people retired. Do you want to put that blame onto this board? Two of those principals were promoted to the superintendent position. Two of those principals resigned. One resigned to be closer to his ailing father. And lastly, Mary McGrane handed in her resignation here today. Mary McGrane was not fired. She was not asked to resign. That was her decision. This board was anticipating that she was going to be back next year and into the future.”

Marsnik also talked about the turnover in the superintendent’s office. In his tenure, the Ely School District has had seven chief administrators. “Yes, too many,” he said. “Two of those superintendents retired. Both of them told me on numerous occasions that they couldn’t believe what a good school district we have, and how much they enjoyed working here,” he said.

“Two of these superintendents were interims,” Marsnik said. “Ed Anderson said he was only going to stay for one year. He told me he wished Ely was closer to his hometown in Aiken, and he would have stayed on.” The second interim superintendent is Abrahamson. “He was hired on a one-year contract,” Marsnik added. “We are advertising to fill the position. We as a board are very happy with what Kevin is doing for us and we are all hopeful that Kevin will apply for the position and possibly be back with us next year.”

Two other Ely School District superintendents left to take positions elsewhere, according to Marsnik. The district’s last superintendent, Alexis Leitgeb, resigned last summer amid allegations of fraud.

“I just want you people to know the reasons why the turnover is the way it has been,” Marsnik said. “I hope that we answered some of your questions here. And before some of you people start pointing fingers, I only ask for one thing. I would appreciate it if you did your homework about the reasons why people left.”

Following the meeting, McGrane was pressed for additional public comment. She declined, only adding, “I did not make this decision lightly. I am humbled and grateful by the positive outpouring of support from parents, students and staff. I will miss all three of those groups greatly.”

Other business

In other business, the Ely School Board took the following action:

• Approved the request from the Ely Hoop Club to spend $6,096 toward the purchase of a new scoreboard system for the gym with funds to come from the 2017 budget;

• Accepted a revised fiscal year 2016 budget that shows a fund balance increase of $66,891;

• Agreed to advertise the superintendent’s position opening on the INDEED job posting website;

• Approved the following volunteer assistant track coaches for the 2015-2016 season, Neil Smith, Tyler Nelson and Joseph Kucera;

• Hired Aaron Donais and Cori Lassi to share the position of assistant baseball coach for the 2015-2016 school year;

• Adopted MSBA Model Policy for Gifts to Employees and School Board Members;

• Adopted Policy 442 Tax Shelter Plans, Employees/Personnel.

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