Ray Whipple, a member of the Newton school board, questioned on May 8 the hiring process of leadership positions in the school district. While he specifically targeted the assistant principal position at Berg Middle School, he later clarified he is not questioning the person being hired, but the process itself.
Prior to the board voting to approve the full list of licensed personnel and classified personnel, Whipple at first requested to pull out the position so that school board members could discuss it as an individual agenda item; much like how consent agenda items may be treated.
However, the board did not grant Whipple’s request, but board president Robyn Friedman entertained a discussion. Whipple read from a prepared statement.
“As a school board it would be in our best interest to have an involvement in the selection process,” Whipple said. “Currently, the school board does not have an active role in the selection of all leadership positions, and we are expected to OK something that we do not have any prior knowledge of.”
Whipple went on to say the school board is ultimately responsible for making the decision to hire people for leadership roles, but he questioned how they could do that without being involved in any of the hiring steps. He also stressed leadership positions are “the framework for conducting effective schools.”
School boards, he added, need to be able to rely on leadership positions to make sure all areas within that building run smoothly.
“Hiring an administrator with no administration experience is showing the students, staff, parents and community that we are not serious about continuing to make the needed improvements with our school district so that it can be the best it can be,” Whipple said, later suggesting to table the hiring.
Whipple said the board should have more information on at least the top-two candidates before making an informed decision before putting it to a vote. At the very least he hoped his statement would make the school board take a closer look at the way leadership roles are filled within the district.
School board member Donna Cook said the district’s elected officials are responsible for only one employee: the superintendent.
“I guess I feel like you’re — I’m a little frustrated — I feel like you’re being a mouthpiece for some teachers that have voiced some concerns,” Cook said. “…We haven’t been involved and we approve a whole page of hirings without knowing much about any of them.”
Cook was concerned if Whipple had not brought his concerns to the superintendent ahead of the meeting or to human resources.
Whipple said he did.
School board member Travis Padget suggested the topic be continued in a future discussion item on the agenda or as a work session. Padget said it would be a valuable discussion on how the school board’s role fits into the district’s hiring process. Fellow school board member Liz Hammerly agreed.
Whipple said, “We have to, in my opinion, change the process. Vice-principals on up. I think we need to be in on the decision-making process. They’re the ones that drive our school district. The other ones, we rely on those leadership positions so that I can rubber stamp that list.”
Whipple reiterated it has nothing to do with the people being hired but more so the policy not involving the school board. Friedman assured hiring processes would be part of a future agenda item. Cook is concerned because there are people in place who make those decisions.
“I don’t want to micromanage that either,” she said.
Whipple added, “But they’re not in leadership roles.”
Friedman respectively asked Cook and Whipple to end their discussion and put the matter to a vote. The school board voted 6-1 on approving the licensed personnel, with Whipple voting no. Berg Middle School Principal Bret Miller later approached the school board in defense of his new assistant principal.
“Jen Wiebel has been an instructional coach at Berg (for) six years,” Miller said. “I worked closely with her in my district office position at Berg and I’m fully confident that she is the right person for the job at this time … I would put my position on the line. She brings a skill set of instructional knowledge.”