Thursday, June 20, 2024

Brewster School Board hears grievances, reverses vote for Middle School Principal/AD

From left, Brewster School Board Directors Mario Camacho and Emmanuel Rubio, Chairperson Hector Aparicio, Peggy Rice, and Erik Rios, join Brewster School Superintendent Lynnette Blackburn and Secretary to the Board Estella Martinez at the table for the special meeting on May 29.
From left, Brewster School Board Directors Mario Camacho and Emmanuel Rubio, Chairperson Hector Aparicio, Peggy Rice, and Erik Rios, join Brewster School Superintendent Lynnette Blackburn and Secretary to the Board Estella Martinez at the table for the special meeting on May 29.
MIKE MALTAIS/WARD MEDIA
Posted

BREWSTER—Disagreement with the Brewster School Board’s choice to fill the positions of Middle School Principal and MS athletic director sparked a special meeting that drew nearly 275 community and staff members to the high school commons room on Tuesday, May 29. At the previous week’s regular meeting, the board chose a candidate over the recommended choice of its interview committee, a decision viewed by many school staff and community members as contrary to the institution's best interests.

The committee recommended Middle School Counselor Miranda Solorio and the board chose Middle School teacher and sports coach Dan Vassar.

“Despite the interview committee’s recommendation, the board did not accept their proposed candidate, leading to widespread concern and disappointment among staff,” wrote Superintendent Lynnette Blackburn later. “This led to schoolwide turmoil amongst students, staff, and leaders.”

For three and a half hours, community members and school staff addressed the board with opinions ranging from praise for the board’s dedication, appeals for more public attendance at meetings, and better communications to criticism for rejecting a committee recommendation, calls for better representation and demands for a major overhaul of board policies. 

In Blackburn’s words, the majority “gathered in overwhelming support of the interview committee’s original candidate. Attendees were given the opportunity to voice their opinions, each allocated two minutes to share their thoughts, resulting in a passionate and heated discussion.”

Seventh-grade teacher Kyle Woelber endorsed both individuals but said the board’s actions resulted in one of the most difficult weeks of his professional career.

“We are very lucky to have two capable candidates applying for this position,” said Woelber. “I believe either one of them could do a fantastic job in the position that they’re hired.”

Woelber urged the board to restructure its process to allow the best decision for the students and community.

Manny Hurtado, a parent of two girls entering middle school, appealed for more clarity between the board and the community.

“Look at all these people here,” said Hurtado. “They all want to know what is going to happen.”

Interim High School Principal Jake Johanson delivered perhaps the most definitive address of the meeting – and it took him less than the two minutes allotted for each speaker.

“I will not be part of or work in a system that does not work for all of our students,” said Johanson. “My resignation is necessary because, as it stands, I cannot support a system that does not support all our students, staff, and all our kids.”

Solorio, who was offered the principal/AD position on May 14, spoke about how, as a first-generation graduate, her faith and trust soon turned to concern and fear when she learned that the board had other ideas.

“I witnessed community members speak highly of their friend who was not offered the position,” said Solorio, “Their interests appeared heavily on the athletic side of the position…all the while I was spoken of as if I wasn’t even in the room.”

Solorio also questioned why their focus was not on her professional abilities, her education, training, and work ethic.

“This decision was made against the recommendation provided by the hiring committee and Superintendent Blackburn,” said Solorio, “who combined have nearly a hundred years of being educators.”

Vassar told the audience that as a teacher for 16 years, he is foremost an educato,r but defended his role as a sports coach, citing the rewards of spending time with students outside the classroom.

“My classroom numbers speak for themselves,” said Vassar. “I assure you I am not underqualified to be chosen as Principal of the Middle School.”

Solorio inquired why the board made the choice they did.

“The reason we decided on Mr. Vassar is because he has more educational experience,” said Chairperson Hector Aparicio.

Aparicio then added that Vassar’s name came up during earlier discussions with the previous administration as the replacement for AD Greg Austin when he retired.

“So, yes, that was in the works to make him the principal,” said Aparicio. “We had already discussed that.”

Aparicio’s forthrightness did not go over well with Solorio or many in the audience.

“I wanted this job,” said Solario, “I went through a one-hour interview, another hour interview, another hour interview, and then I had a dinner with a board member.”

She objected to the abuse of her time and trust.

“If this is not a legitimate process, don’t waste my time,” said Solorio. “I don’t want to go through it if the decision has already been made.”

Blackburn clarified that she had no knowledge of the board’s earlier consideration of Vassar for the post.

Third-year Ag education teacher/advisor Natasha Hemmer criticized the actions and behavior of the board.

“In those three years I have already had three principals and I will be starting my fourth year with a fourth principal,” said Hemmer. “You have lost the trust of many of your high school teachers and left us once again wondering what our future, our students’ futures, look like.”

Following more than two hours of testimony, the board adjourned to executive session to revisit the previous week’s actions. Many in the audience remained to hear the results. When the meeting reconvened, the board held a new vote for the Middle School Principal and MS AD position.

Directors Erik Rios and Aparicio voted for Vassar. Directors Mario Camacho, Emmanuel Rubio, and Peggy Rice voted against.

Camacho moved. and Rice seconded the nomination of Solorio. With only one dissenting vote, Solorio was awarded the position. 

Aparicio pledged his and the board’s support to Solorio.

“We will move forward and stronger as a community because of this,” Aparicio said and urged more community involvement in future monthly meetings.

“The board’s decision reflects a collective effort to ensure that the best interests of the students, staff, and community are prioritized,” said Blackburn. “Moving forward, the district remains dedicated to fostering a supportive environment where all voices are heard and respected.”

The Brewster School Board meets at 6 p.m. every fourth Monday of the month in the Elementary Community Room at 502 S. Seventh St. Phone: 509-689-3418 ext. 2301.

Mike Maltais: 360-333-8483 or michael@ward.media

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