Embattled Carol Markham-Cousins is out as principal of Washburn High School, the school district announced Thursday.
The decision by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson was relayed to school board members Wednesday night, and announced Thursday by the district after word leaked out. She'll remain in the district in an unspecified role, spokesman Stan Alleyne said.
Alleyne also confirmed that an investigation involving Markham-Cousins is underway, although state law prohibits disclosure of more specifics this stage.
Former Southwest High School Principal Robert McCauley will run Washburn until an interim principal is named to finish the school year, Alleyne said. A community process will begin later this spring to search for a new principal for the school.
Alleyne read this statement: "Events over this current year have distracted from the learning environment at Washburn. We recognize that Ms. Markham-Cousins has been a passionate advocate for students and families, and she did a particularly great job of leading the turnaround of Washburn. But the administration also recognizes that a change in leadership is necessary now to restore the school’s effective learning.”
Markham-Cousins was hired in 2007 to shape up the Tangletown school in a fresh-start process in which many teachers were replaced. She brought passion for the success of students who might get overlooked, but ran into headwinds from some parents who sought more rigorous classes for advanced students.
But the end came in her sixth year of leading the school when she became the target of student and alumni ire. That arose when the district disclosed that school Athletic Director Dan Pratt, who is popular with many students, was the subject of an investigation for a "private personnel matter."
Although few details of that investigation are known, internal e-mails obtained earlier this week made clear that Markham-Cousins and Pratt differed over issues related to the installation of a new scoreboard.
Students organized on Facebook for a walkout that drew close to 200 students midway through the day on Monday. On Tuesday, a leader of that walkout, star athlete Jamison Whiting, said Markham-Cousins and other administrators used coercive tactics to force him to abort an in-school protest. That prompted an in-school sit-in on Wednesday in hallways near the main office.
Supporters of both Whiting and Pratt turned their fire on Markham-Cousins although Alleyne said the personnel matter involving Pratt was handled by the central administration. One potential reason that the district is investigating Markham-Cousins is the assertion by Whiting that he was told by her that he couldn't leave an administrator's office until he agreed to call off a protest.
Board member Rebecca Gagnon said that the testimony to the board Tuesday by Whiting and others was a matter of concern. “You have to investigate. Kids are dramatic and so are adults," she said.
Added board member Hussein Samatar, “It is shocking to me because we have not been briefed that this decision was coming."