On Tuesday night, frustrations mounted along with the temperature, as a packed house of parents and teachers assembled at a standing-room-only East Hampton School Board meeting.
Earlier in the day, Gina Kraus, the principal of the John M. Marshall Elementary School, had gathered her teachers and staff for a mandatory meeting to announce that she was being forced out. Apparently, her contract as principal had not been extended for the 2013-14 academic year, with Ms. Kraus likely headed back to the classroom as a result.
The decision of whether or not to grant tenure to a district employee rests with Richard J. Burns, the superintendent of schools. While the board will ultimately vote on his recommendation, the issue was not formally addressed at Tuesday night’s meeting and did not appear on the agenda. George Aman, the board’s president, surmised that Ms. Kraus’s contract would be voted upon in the near future — most likely at the next school boarding meeting on Tuesday, March 19.
Repeated calls to Ms. Kraus and Mr. Burns had not been returned as of press time.
Ms. Kraus became principal of John Marshall in January of last year, having previously served as assistant principal. Prior to becoming an administrator more than three years ago, she had worked as an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years — with the bulk of her career spent at John Marshall.
If the superintendent’s recommendation holds, Ms. Kraus will have to step down as principal at the end of June. Whether or not she would ultimately return to the classroom is still unclear.
A familiar and soothing face to many parents, news that she would likely not be the principal next year blindsided nearly everyone at the school. More than a dozen teachers and parents subsequently showed up at the meeting to express their support.
“When does this revolving door of administrators stop?” asked Wendy Geehreng Walters, the mother of two children at John Marshall. “A lot of us are here to support Gina in hopes of keeping her as our principal. Anyone who puts education and kids first will vote in favor of Gina Kraus.”
Kate McCarty next addressed the board, describing it as the “saddest, most disturbing thing not to extend her contract for tenure.” Ms. McCarty, a mother of two at John Marshall, said the decision to replace Ms. Kraus would likely alienate a number of parents and urged the board to provide greater transparency insofar as its decision-making process was concerned. Thunderous applause followed.
“Is it stability or yet another change? Is it transparency or business behind closed doors? We should have the opportunity in choosing who spends the day with our children,” said Courtney Garneau, who has three children at John Marshall.
Following the widespread plea for answers to their many questions, Mr. Aman said that his hands were tied, since he was unable to discuss personnel decisions. “It’s illegal and inappropriate to do this tonight,” he said, just prior to adjourning the meeting. “Eventually when the decision is formally presented, the board will approve or turn it down at an open board meeting. But there’s no motion to do that at this point.”
Possibly more concerning to both parents and staff was what was described as the revolving door of school administrators, which is proving to be a longstanding issue for the district. At both John Marshall and also at East Hampton Middle School, inconsistency has plagued the upper ranks in recent years, with chronic turnover and changing leadership from year to year.
But according to a document related to principal tenure on the School Administrators Association of New York State’s Web site, Ms. Kraus’s tenure decision may not ultimately be up to the board.
“When administrators are first hired, they are hired as probationary employees. This probationary appointment lasts for three years,” the document explained, further noting that administrators are typically evaluated annually during such time. “Prior to the end of the three-year probationary period, superintendents must make a formal recommendation to the board of education on the tenure of each eligible administrator. The board of education can either accept or reject the superintendent’s positive recommendation. If the superintendent makes a negative recommendation on tenure, the board cannot vote to appoint the individual on tenure.”
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board approved Joel Freedman as interim head school bus driver and approved the early retirement of three district employees: Dolores McGintee, Carol Story, and Eugene Kelley. It also accepted the resignation of Jennifer Olsen, an elementary school teacher who has been out on an extended leave since last year.
Following discussion at last week’s budget workshop, the board continued to weigh whether or not to continue the high school’s driver education program and whether, going forward, the district would continue to pick up all or part of the tab. The board will likely continue discussing the program at the next workshop on Tuesday. Parents and other members of the public may attend.