COLLEGE PLACE — The principal of College Place High School is leaving his post, according to district officials.
In a letter sent to staff this morning, College Place Public Schools Superintendent Tim Payne said Kirk Jameson has requested a leave of absence for the rest of the school year to care for his parents, who live out of town.
Jameson has also submitted his resignation, effective at the end of June, Payne wrote.
“This leave of absence will also allow the school district an early opportunity to search and find an appropriate principal replacement,” according to the superintendent.
Payne said he is creating an interim plan for Jameson’s absence that will be communicated to staff as soon as possible.
Jameson, who previously worked at Walla Walla Public Schools, has headed College Place High School since it opened in 2013. Since this May, however, he has been under scrutiny as a group of parents and students began publicly raising concerns about Jameson’s administrative tactics at College Place High School.
At a community meeting last spring, a packed room of people spent more than two hours detailing their issues with the principal, ranging from free-speech violations to unequal treatment for Latino students to policies weighted against Latino and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
At that meeting, Jameson and Payne said they took the concerns seriously and were committed to making necessary changes.
Also in May, the Walla Walla Valley Education Association sent Payne a “call to action,” stating two-thirds of the high school’s staff indicated they felt unsafe in disagreeing with Jameson; two-thirds of those indicated they didn’t feel safe while at work, saying they were worried about being watched via the school’s security cameras. Teachers also noted they sometimes didn’t know which colleagues they could trust to keep information confidential, according to the association’s letter.
The letter also pointed out some teachers said they were asked by Jameson about their religion and place of worship, an allegation later echoed in an investigative report.
The school district initiated a series of parent meetings over the summer and hired consultant Dan Beebe of the Dan Beebe Group to investigate claims of discriminatory and racist incidents after Latino families and community members called for broad and immediate changes at the high school at a public meeting with Jameson and Payne.
Officials also instituted a “cultural responsiveness training,” designed to define and promote new practices to learn from, respect and relate to people of all cultures.
In June, the CPPS school board renewed Jameson’s contract. Officials lacked the time to respond to a query sent this morning asking for the length and annual salary of Jameson’s latest contract.
In a report released in September, Beebe said he found insufficient evidence of intentional discrimination on Jameson’s part, but he had found instances of Jameson creating a culture of fear in the school. Beebe also noted a lack of adequate administrative policies and procedures to handle concerns from staff, students, parents and community members.
How Jameson handled a number of issues brought up in meetings could be viewed as part of a discriminatory environment, Beebe said then.
Upon the release of that report, CPPS board members said in an unsigned statement that it took allegation of discrimination seriously and that improvements were underway, especially at the high school. Jameson was quoted in the board’s statement, saying the investigation showed him areas he needed to improve and grow.
Last month, retired Whitman College humanities professor James Winchell submitted a written protest of the CPPS board’s decision to retain Jameson, based on the principal’s actions, as well as Payne’s and the school board’s failure to intervene in the situation.
As well, Winchell wrote, the board had abdicated its oversight duties and not ensured district policies were followed, instead putting those tasks onto Payne.
According to Winchell’s Nov. 6 letter, having Payne investigate his own district while simultaneously imposing boundaries on Beebe’s investigation and those findings, represented a conflict of interest.
On Nov. 29, Winchell filed a request for a hearing on the matter; Washington state law stipulates such a hearing must take place within 20 days. That date is Dec. 19.
Walla Walla attorney Sandy Garcia, who acts as advocate and liaison for many Latino families in the College Place school district, said this morning that Jameson’s resignation leaves unanswered questions.
When the principal’s contract was renewed in June, “even after Mr. Beebe’s damning report,” Garcia said she took it as a sign the administration was willing to overlook ample evidence of discrimination in Jameson’s actions and gamble on him.
While some positive changes appeared to be promoted over the summer, Garcia said she thought the district would do more than it appears to have done to fix the problems.
Jameson’s sudden “disruptive” leaving just before the high school’s winter break brings into question if there was a new, offending incident, Garcia added.
Keith Swanson, president of the education association, said today his concerns lie with College Place High School staff. Jameson’s departure, while abrupt, offers an opportunity for teachers to “take a deep breath” and focus on their students without concerns for their own well-being.
For those who have felt the tension between Jameson and some of his staff, the hope is there can be healing and forward momentum, Swanson said in an emailed statement.
In Payne’s letter to staff, which he copied to the Union-Bulletin, he said the district thanks Jameson for his time and “faithful service to the students, staff, and community.
He wrote: “Mr. Jameson was instrumental in implementing the superintendent’s and school board’s vision and mission for the new College Place High School.”