Friday, July 09, 2004

Seattle school district pays principal to resign

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Public Schools officials recently agreed to pay the principal of the African American Academy $89,000 to resign, saying parents had expressed concerns about his disciplinary style.

The school district offered Medgar Wells a buyout after parents repeatedly voiced concern about a lack of disciplinary control at the school, said Steve Wilson, chief academic officer.

Wells attributes his departure to different reasons. He said the settlement stems from disagreements about staffing at the South End, Afro-centric school.

He said he wanted to expand a program called "looping," in which teachers remain with the same students through several grade levels.

"It's something you definitely need with African-American kids. You need to build relationships," Wells said. "The truly courageous conversation that needs to be had is whether the district is going to allocate the resources needed in order to better serve the children they have underserved for years."

Wilson said he was not aware of Wells' concerns about staffing. He said that before asking Wells to resign, district officials had numerous meetings with staff at the academy, as well as parents. The settlement equals Wells' salary, minus benefits.

There were "a lot of concerns" about the school's climate, Wilson said.

Wells, 38, originally is from Mississippi. He taught at the African American Academy, a K-8 school, for five years before he was named principal four years ago.

The 12-year-old school has struggled with low test scores, but has made substantial improvements in the past few years. Last year, fourth-graders at the school had some of the biggest gains in the district in math and writing on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

Wells attributes that success to looping. The students' instructors had advanced with them from third to fourth grade, and he wanted to expand the program to allow fifth-grade teachers to accompany their classes to middle school.

He said the district wouldn't allow that, because the fifth-grade teachers weren't certified to teach at the middle-school level.

"I needed the freedom to be able to make those kinds of moves," Wells said.

He said parental concerns about discipline were not the reason for his departure.

"You have that at every school," he said. "In a school with 500 kids, you're gonna have parents who disagree."

Wells recently was hired as principal of Zion Preparatory Academy, a private Christian school in Seattle. While he's excited to be a part of Zion's approach, he said he didn't want to leave the African American Academy.

"I loved the community and the parents," he said.

The district is interviewing candidates to replace Wells as the principal at the African American Academy. Principal openings also remain at the Bilingual Orientation Center and North Beach Elementary.

More than 20 principals recently have been appointed to new positions in Seattle. Earlier this spring, the district selected Laura Tollefson as the new principal at Wedgwood Elementary, but Tollefson, former principal at Enatai Elementary in Bellevue, recently accepted a job outside the district. Veronica Gallardo has been appointed in her place. Last year she worked as principal intern at Mercer Middle School and John Hay Elementary

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