Government / Politics

Anzar High School principal to be replaced during next school year

The Aromas-San Juan Unified School District will hire a new principal at Anzar High School next school year, but the method of doing so has parents and teachers concerned.

Parents of Anzar High School students and others are concerned about how the school’s principal will be replaced during the next school year.

Principal Charlene McKowen is ready to retire and plans to do so at the end of the 2018 to 2019 school year. But the Aromas-San Juan Bautista Unified School District Board of Trustees wants to bring on a new hire before that happens.

McKowen has worked at the school since it opened in 1994. She became principal in 2000.

The situation has led one teacher to threaten to resign. There have been allegations of Brown Act violations by the board and at least one parent has filed a request for data under the California Public Records Act to be sure the Brown Act is being followed.

The Brown Act is California’s open meeting law. It sets rules for what and what cannot be done in closed session.

At the regular board meeting at Anzar High on April 25, Superintendent Michele Huntoon told those attending a little about the proposed principal transition plan.

The plan calls for the new principal to come on board before McKowen retires. Huntoon said that from January through June of next year, McKowen focus on student graduation exhibition projects.

The superintendent said it is important to have a smooth transfer of academic knowledge from the current principal to her replacement.

“Waiting until next June to bring somebody on doesn’t allow for that transfer,” Huntoon said. “That would be a disservice to a program that has been built for so many years.”

Huntoon said the plan would be spelled out more clearly in a letter to be distributed before the end of the week. But as of Sunday, no one had apparently seen the letter.

But that information, or lack of, didn’t assuage those at the April 25 meeting. Several people said the board needs to be more transparent regarding the matter.

“We need to have a community conversation about this,” said resident Wayne Norton. “What we want and how we want to do it… I really do feel we have a communication issue.”

San Juan Bautista resident Rachel Ponce said the board should first get community input on what it wants in a new principal and have public members on an interview panel.

“There’s a lot more to Anzar programs than just exhibitions, and I think it would be so much better for Anzar if Charlene stays the whole year in the position that she [is in],” Ponce said.

“For many years there was a three-person… government team and that evolved into a principal. And that was because the community wanted a principal. The collaboration that goes on here at this school, with the staff, the students and everyone, what Charlene has built on… you have to learn from it and you guys haven’t. You have not been involved in the unification of it, in the building of it, and that’s what you guys need to learn.”

Parents were frustrated by not knowing how replacing McKowen would play out.

The issue of replacing McKowen was placed on Wednesday night’s agenda by Board Trustee Jennifer Colby. The impetus for agendizing it apparently stemmed from concerns about the transition in leadership brought up at the board’s March meeting.

Board President Drew McAllister called for a transition plan to make the replacement of McKowen go smoothly. He appointed Colby and Trustee Monica Martinez-Guaracha to an ad hoc committee to work on the issue.

But even that wasn’t satisfactory for some present at the meeting. One man commented that the plan to hire a new principal is apparently already in place and that an ad hoc committee would not affect it.

On March 12, a retirement/resignation agreement between the school district and McKowen was signed by the principal and Superintendent Huntoon. BenitoLink obtained a copy of the agreement, but two of the "whereas" lines are blacked out. It is not known if McKowen actually agreed with the document.

The board of trustees signed an agreement in closed session detailing McKowen's salary next year at last Wednesday’s board meeting. The board is allowed to meet in closed session regarding an employee’s salary. However, salaries of school district employees are considered public record.

BenitoLink reached out to several sources to determine how much the new hire will make in salary and how much McKowen will make when she transitions to gradex duties. The agreement the board approved only lists salary classifications.

The agreement from March 12 calls for McKowen to draw her current salary until she transitions from principal to overseeing graduation exhibition projects. At that time, her compensation will be classified as .4 full-time employee (FTE), defined as current salary multiplied by .4, from December 31, 3018 through June 30, 2019.

The new principal, when found, will be paid as a .6 FTE teacher and .4 FTE administrator at the beginning of the school year through December 31, 2018. At that time, he or she will take on primary responsibility as principal.

Anzar High, which has 355 students enrolled, was founded in 1994 by a grassroots effort. The school will mark its 25th year next school year. McKowen is the school’s first and only principal.

McKowen said she would like to finish out the next school year and then retire.

“I made a decision I do want to finish out,” McKowen said. “I could leave and finish out somewhere else. I get recruited all the time. But it’s such a special space and I don’t want to undermine the program by ditching… I think it’s going to be exciting for the school to have a new person. I think it needs some fresh air.”

McKowen could not discuss the hiring of her replacement further because she has signed a nondisclosure statement. She previously had said she would work as principal during the next school year, then return under contract for six months to help with the leadership transition process.

A board meeting is set for Tuesday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the Anzar High library to provide district administration with comments related to the characteristics and qualities of the new principal.

Trustee Jeff Hancock, who faces re-election this year along with Trustee Jose Flores, was not present at the April 25 meeting.


Thomas Leyde