Washburn High School will get a national search for a new principal as the Minneapolis School District attempts to recover from a gaffe in which the most recent person to hold the job lasted just four days.
The district said Friday it will seek candidates nationally. Spokesman Stan Alleyne said the search will be delayed until a more propitious time of the school year for landing candidates but still be early enough to snag the biggest field.
District officials are hoping to fare better this time than they did with Patrick Exner, who started Monday as Washburn principal but was removed from the job Thursday after an allegation of academic misconduct involving test-tampering at the charter school where he formerly worked.
The district also wants to terminate Exner from the district payroll, Alleyne said, adding that it was negotiating with the union representing principals.
Alleyne said the district plans a national search but said he did not know yet whether it will employ a search firm, which some have urged so that the district finds a deeper slate of candidates for the school’s top job. The district reviewed 23 applicants for the job after saying it advertised nationally, but forwarded only Exner to a school-level committee for an interview before Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson appointed Exner.
Another complication for a Washburn search is that the district now has two high school principal openings after South High School Principal Cecilia Saddler was shifted last week to the job of overseeing the district’s southwestern schools. “Now we will be competing with South,” said Jennifer Bennett, a parent leader at Barton Open School, which is in Washburn’s area but also feeds students to South’s open program. Unlike Washburn’s sole candidate, Barton got to interview six finalists when the district filled its principal opening last year.
Although Johnson issued a statement late Thursday saying that Exner won’t return to Washburn, the district didn’t make her available Friday to discuss how and why she chose him last week. Alleyne said Johnson met Thursday with Washburn parent leaders to discuss developments and take feedback. A parent meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the school.
South will be headed temporarily by Willarene Beasley, while Linda Conley, an assistant principal, will fill the top job at Washburn for a stint that Alleyne said could last for months.
Alleyne said he didn’t know if a district investigation into the allegations against Exner had been concluded. Ironically, Johnson gave the same reason for replacing Exner — too much distraction — that she gave in April when she reassigned his predecessor at Washburn, Carol Markham-Cousins. Divisions over her academic philosophy and the reassignment of the school’s athletic director caused rifts among students and parents, including a walkout and a sit-in by some students. The controversy over Exner started even before students returned for the school year.