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Barton appointment gets parent blowback

Posted by: Steve Brandt under People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: June 18, 2014 - 10:23 AM

The district is getting blowback from parents at Clara Barton Open School at a time that’s usually celebratory for a school – the announcement of a new principal.

The discontent arises from the timing of the announcement, the lack of school participation in the hiring process and lack of information about the new principal’s background. The district filled the job with unusual speed, a mere three weeks. It took four and a half months to name a principal two years ago.

The district late Monday announced that Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson had named Paul Scanlon to be Barton’s new principal. That announcement wasn’t e-mailed to parents until around 7 p.m., hours after the district posted the news on its web site. That left parents scrambling to Google the background of the new principal on Google, according to Julia Paulsen Mullin, co-chair of the school’s leadership council.

Scanlon is taking on Barton and its specialized open education program as a brand-new principal. In fact, he’s not licensed as a principal yet, although district spokesman Stan Alleyne said it expects the paperwork for that to be completed by the end of the month.

That’s unsettling to parents who wonder whether Scanlon has any open school background. Scanlon is replacing Patrick Duffy, who announced last month that he’s taking the job of director of leadership development for the St. Paul district. Some parents also look askance at Scanlon’s combination of charter school and district background. 

According to the district, he’s most recently worked for the district as an instructional specialist at Armatage Montessori School, and at a residential-shelter program the district supplies schooling for at St. Joseph’s Home for Children. According to the district, he also spent two years as an assistant principal at St. Paul City School, a charter school, and was interim director of the former Richard Allen Math and Science Academy in Minneapolis. His LinkedIn resume shows the Barton job will be his sixth in less than five years.

The school’s parent leadership  was already feeling bruised by its lack of participation in the hiring process, Mullin said.  It was allowed to edit a profile of what the school sought in a principal that was written two years ago, but the district didn’t allow parent or teacher representatives to participate in interviews with applicants, as it did two years ago.

The process the district followed when Duffy was hired was also used to fill principal jobs at Sanford and Ramsey middle schools, and most recently, at South and Washburn high schools.  It involves extensive consultations with the school and participation in applicant interviews. The district said it changed practices this year to only allow such involvement at the high school level. Associate Superintendent Cecilia Saddler, who announced the appointment, hasn't responded to Star Tribune calls about the process and appointment.

But she posted the following on the school's online site: "The order of the announcement regarding Mr. Scanlon was compromised, leading to the release of the news on the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) website prior to a communication with staff and parents.  This is not our standard protocol, and we regret the error.  MPS has a longstanding process for making principal announcements, and we are reviewing that process to make sure errors like this don’t happen again."

Meanwhile, area school board member Tracine Asberry said on a parent Facebook page that she's pushing the district to respond to parent questions. Some parents expressed frustration on that page but others advocated waiting to learn more about Scanlon. 

Mullin said representatives of the school’s leadership council were told by that it had a substantial pool of applicants for district principal posts, but would go outside that pool if needed.

The downside to excluding the school from interviews, Mullin said, is that there’s no one to tell parents why the new principal is a good fit, as there was when Duffy was hired.  Duffy also lacked open school background as well, but had a background in educational equity. He also had not worked above the level of assistant principal before Barton.

Mullin said the lack of information is an issue. “Immediately, there were lots of questions. Who is he?  Is he a good fit for Barton?” she said. “I want to know his educational philosophy and how that fits with Barton and open education. I want to know why the district is excited about him.”

A handful of Barton parents met on Tuesday at a coffeehouse and also decided they want more information about the process and the results. "If they chose this candidate because he was such a strong candidate, no one has communicated why he's such a strong candidate," said parent Kori Hennessy. "Maybe we need to slow down this process and look at what went wrong. For myself, I feel disrespected as a parent."

Some parents are advocating for a parent meeting at the school to discuss their issues, while others argue the district should back up and correct mistakes.

"I don't want to know why the district thought he would be a good principal. I want to know why they thought he would be a good principal for Barton," parent Elizabeth Campbell posted on Facebook.

Saddler's letter said her enthusiasm for Scanlon  was undeterred by process issues. She said he had a background in cultural proficiency and teacher growth in differentiated instruction, and worked in district efforts at "continuous improvement in the areas of literacy, mathematics, teacher collaboration and curriculum alignment."

The school is one of two in Minneapolis using the open model of education. The arrival of open education here grew out of a federally funded program in the 1970s that introduced varying educational philosophies in southeast Minneapolis schools, where Marcy Open School is located. Open education emphasizes hands-on studies tailored to a student's learning style and interests. It opened the year with 744 students, and is highly sought-after by southwest parents.

Responding to fears expressed by some, Alleyne denied that the appointment means that the district is de-emphasizing open education. The district still has seven principal openings to fill, weeks after it normally has finished its slate of leaders for the upcoming school year.

(Photo above: Patrick Duffy, by Maren Cotton.)   

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