One aspect of the Washburn High School imbroglio that brought down Principal Carol Markham-Cousins has been concluded with the news that the school’s former athletic director, Dan Pratt, is headed to Rockford schools.
The district incorporating parts of Wright and Hennepin counties on the Crow River announced this week that it’s hiring Pratt, who lost the position he’d held for 13 years in Minneapolis, as Rockford’s activity director. He’ll be responsible for more than athletics for the district’s 800 middle and high school students; his duties include arts and other activities at the school.
At 1,110-student Washburn, Pratt supervised 24 sports, managing coaches, scheduling, facilities, and conditioning programs. He’s also coached girls softball and boys hockey.
Pratt worked as a .6 position athletic director, less than most peers in the district, but was not interviewed after Markham-Cousins posted the job at .4 for next school year. The district recently overrode that to upgrade the position to a fulltime job, and is trying to fill it before the start of the school year.
It’s looking less likely that the district will have a permanent replacement for Markham-Cousins in place by then. The district extended its search process and now says it plans interviews by the end of the month, but is making standby plans if it can’t find the right leader for the school. Bob McCauley, a former Southwest principal and an interim associate superintendent, has been overseeing the school.
The district hasn’t given specific reasons for reassigning Markham-Cousins in April after a walkout and sit-in by some students protesting the impending ouster of Pratt. Nor has the former principal explained her actions involving Pratt. But the two reportedly clashed over a scoreboard replacement project for the athletic stadium’s recently renovated field.
The district said ithas finished investigating both Markham-Cousins and Pratt. It said that no discipline has been impsoed on her, but said there is not a final disposition in Pratt's case.
The scoreboard was headed for installation last August when neighbors blew the whistle with the city after crews cut down some of the trees that had been planted on the 49th Street side of the stadium to screen neighbors from stadium lights. The city found that the necessary state electrical and city footing permits hadn’t been done by the district’s facilities staff; city zoning administrator Steve Poor said the proposed structure also violated a height restriction.
The school’s athletic department had stockpiled enough money from fundraising to pay for one of the quotes from a scoreboard supplier. But it reportedly was encouraged by the district department to buy the most expensive version. That was an LED multi-sport board that with add-ons and installation cost $140,000.
Now the district said it’s working to install a scoreboard by the start of the school year, but that will cost less than $100,000. It also plans to switch the scoreboard from the north end of the athletic field, where it has been since at least 1985, to the south end. That puts it farther from the neighbors who complained.
But the switch also means that the money that the district spent to extend wiring from the stadium concession stand to original replacement site just outside the field’s north retaining wall will go for naught, and the district will need to install additional wiring to the new site. It also means spectators will see the back of the board when they enter the stadium’s main gates.
Pratt has been mum through the episode. But he did say Wednesday that he was happy to be going to a district “that’s absolutely excited for me to be here and excited for me to build relationships.” But parting isn’t easy. Pratt is a Washburn graduate, as are his three children. He’s the guy who handled duties ranging from unlocking and locking the stadium for events and rentals to getting students ready for the next season.
“I‘d say a lot of nice things about the people and the community and how they supported me,” he said of his Washburn tenure.
In a final irony, given the scoreboard episode, Rockford’s announcement said that Pratt will bring relevant experience to that district’s renovation and construction of several activities-related facilities authorized through a 2012 bond election.
(Photos Above: Students sit in last April to support Dan Pratt, photo by Ben Simpson; Right: Students walk out two days earlier to support Pratt , staff photo by Brian Peterson)