Cleveland staff demands input on principal selection process

A staff letter asks the district to reprise “advisory panels” to aid in the selection

By Oscar Duyck and David Rappe

After weeks of strife and exclusion for the principal selection process, the teachers and staff of Cleveland have made a declaration to the PPS district: that they, the faculty, will no longer be left out of the future of their beloved school. This declaration is in the form of a letter written by special projects coordinator Jan Watt and teacher John Golden, and was signed by every staff member present the day it was shown to staff. Then, the letter was sent to the superintendent of Portland Public Schools, Carole Smith.

This letter asks for a change in the current principal hiring system. Presently, the only input the staff had was in a community meeting held Jan. 22. The signers of this letter want to change the system so that the staff has more of a say in the process that will affect their lives and jobs for years to come. One of the primary changes that the letter addresses is bringing back a staff advisory committee that would make recommendations for the district. A committee like this was abolished within the last few years, and the staff that signed the letter would like for it to be reestablished.

According to Watt, the current principal hiring process should be changed in all schools, not just Cleveland. She said that Cleveland “is not any more special than any other school,” meaning that changing the principal selection process for just Cleveland is simply not enough. She, Golden, and the other staff members who signed the letter want change for the whole district. Watt said that there was a “missing layer” in the principal selection process, and that she and her participating colleagues want to fill that gap with something good. The letter states, “We fully recognize that these panels would not make hiring decisions, but would be empowered only to make a recommendation.”

There are no guarantees that there will be a change in policy, but the teachers, according to Golden and Watt, would very much like one. Whether or not there is meaningful change in the process, Cleveland staff members will have their voices heard.

The letter came in response to what the Cleveland community felt was an inadequate role in the principal selection process. A meeting with district officials Jan. 22 fell flat, and faculty members decided to take action.

There was tension in the air. That’s what you get when you cram 130 people into a high school
library and ask them to give their honest opinions about the future of their children. The meeting
outlined the process of hiring a new principal. Three district representatives: John Blanck, Larry Dashiell and Alma Morales Galicia, told the crowd the process for hiring a new principal. The current Cleveland principal, Paul Cook, is retiring at the end of this school year.

The meeting was for parents, students, staff, and other community members to give their local perspective on the qualities and characteristics they want for their new principal. The district outlined the steps to hire a principal. The first step was this community meeting, held Jan. 21. The input from the community meeting would be reviewed by senior directors, the superintendent Carole Smith and her human resources department. Then, the district would see if a current principal with high school experience would be a good fit for Cleveland. If the answer is yes, then the superintendent can make a decision at any time. If not, then the district would accept applicants that would be reviewed by a district hiring team, who would then make a recommendation to the district.

Many attendees at the meeting were not a fan of the process. Jan Watt, special projects coordinator, told the district officials that she wanted a “reconsideration of process” and “further input” for the community.

At the meeting, the district envoys talked about minimum qualifications for principals, the applicant process, racial equality, and how potential principals are evaluated. The minimum qualifications for principals include needing an Oregon administrative license, at least a master’s degree in education, and a minimum of successful school administration in an educational setting. The basic qualities that a principal is supposed to have revolve basically around leaders with high ethical standards, and are experts in communication with staff, students, families and partners. Also, racially-sensitive candidates are a must. Other qualities include master teachers and effective managers.

One of the main complaints of the meeting was that, in all four possible hiring stages, the
superintendent is involved in three, and the community, students, and staff in only one (the meeting).
That meeting, though, could very easily be ignored by the district.

Jared Watson, a sophomore, wanted to make sure that the superintendent listened to the
feedback at the meeting. “I want a promise that the students’ word will be heard,” he said defiantly.

John Blanck, one of the speakers, said that he could most assuredly make that promise.

If there was one thing that everyone could agree on during the meeting, it was that Paul Cook,
who has guided this school through thick and thin, will be a hard man to live up to. “Paul could see
ahead,” said a member of the crowd. Whether or not Cook’s shoes can be filled, one thing’s for certain.
The selection process has started.

And it will be seen through.