Fireweed restarts search for principal
By McKibben Jackinsky
Before an outspoken crowd of an estimated 75 concerned parents and teachers, the eight-member Fireweed Academy APC, Academic Policy Committee, unanimously decided Thursday evening to throw out already taken steps and begin anew their search for the charter school's first principal.
The committee also voted to form a new hiring committee to be comprised of two alumni, two current parents, a teacher from grades K-2, a teacher from grades 3-6 and Garry Betley, founding member of the Fireweed Academy. Another meeting of the APC will be held in the library of West Homer Elementary School, where Fireweed Academy is located, at 10 a.m. Monday.
These actions came after Kim Fine, APC member and Fireweed teacher, noted the committee had been given "a crash course in the Open Meetings Act" earlier in the day.
It also came after Shawnisty Webber, the APC president, unexpectedly diverted from the meeting agenda distributed prior to the meeting and before formally bringing the meeting to order and moved that the APC go into executive session. A vote on going into executive session was not apparent to the public.
As the APC began leaving the room to meet in a closed-door session, the Homer News asked that the reason for the executive session be identified. Webber said it was to discuss personnel matters. Asked if a vote had been taken, Webber said it had and verbal comments by APC members indicated they were in agreement. Asked by the Homer News if that meant the vote was unanimous, Webber indicated it did.
After returning from executive session a short time later, choices of action the APC was considering were explained by APC member Erica Marley. The first two had previously been announced in an email distributed by the APC on Wednesday:
Hire the selected candidate from the hiring committee's process, Brett Joachim. In this option, Kiki Abrahamson one of the founders of Fireweed, a teacher, the charter school's acting administrator for the past two years and a favorite of many in the room would continue as Fireweed's fifth- and sixth-grade language arts teacher;
Not fill the position at this time and begin a planned transition during which Abrahamson would remain the language arts teacher and continue to perform part-time as the school's administrator. In that option, the hiring process for a full-time principal would begin in January.
Stating the committee had received "new information that has bearing on the options," Webber said a third option had to be considered:
When asked by a member of the audience if the option to start over was a legal issue determined by lawyers, Marley said, "Yes, by the school district."
In addition, Marley said, "What will happen is we'll be much more concerned about the process as we have heard from all of you. We know that we need to do that. (Recruiting for the principal position) will be open for five days and the process will begin again. That's what we will hear comments on. That's what we will vote on."
During nearly two hours of public testimony, widespread support for Abrahamson and criticism of the APC's handling of the search for a principal were repeated.
"I encourage members of the APC and hiring committee to slow down, reflect, be certain the process you've used is flawless," said Bonnie Jason, a former Fireweed employee, former APC member and the parent of three Fireweed alumni. Jason said she supported the third option.
The meeting also was an opportunity for the APC to make comments to the public.
"I think it's pretty clear the dilemma we face," said Fine. "You guys can't imagine the school without Kiki. The outpouring from the community has been tremendous. There are things we can do, things we can't do, but we're ready to move from this point."
Webber said she wanted to make it clear that the APC's "intent all along was to have Kiki mentor (the new principal). We never intended for Kiki to completely leave the school. We were looking forward, if we hired another person, that she could just mentor that position."
Abrahamson announced plans to retire from teaching and to interview for the principal position, as noted in minutes of the APC's April meeting. The minutes also note a new fifth- and sixth-grade language arts teacher would be hired.
The administrator position was opened to applicants April 19, posted on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's website and closed April 26, with more than 25 applicants responding. Those 25 were narrowed to a field of three and presented to the APC by Tim Peterson, the district's human resource director, according to Pegge Erkeneff, the district's communications specialist.
Saturday, Abrahamson sent an email notification using the same distribution as a weekly school newsletter that she had been interviewed by the hiring committee May 29, but had been told June 1 by Peterson "that the APC Hiring Committee has decided to 'take a different direction' and I am no longer being considered for this position."
When asked by the Homer News to identify who was on the Fireweed hiring committee, Peterson said the names were not confidential, however he and Dr. Steve Atwater, district superintendent, declined to give that information. Instead, Atwater said questions should be directed to the APC. Webber declined to identify the members of the hiring committee until Peterson said she could release that information. Abrahamson's email listed the hiring committee members as Peterson and APC members Webber, Fine, Shannon McBride-Morin and Paula Kulhanek.
The email from Abrahamson also noted that a second round of interviews of the two finalists Brett Joachim of Newport, Wash., and Austin Stevenson of Anchorage were scheduled for Monday. Those able to attend the Monday interviews noted surprise at the direction of the candidate search, and, as at Thursday's meeting, support for Abrahamson.
Attending Thursday's meeting by telephone, APC member Shannon McBride-Morin, thanked the crowd for their input.
"I realize I have made mistakes. I realize we on the APC have made mistakes we did not intend to. There was no coup. No backdoor dealings. We tried our best...to move the process forward because we care about this school, our kids," said McBride-Morin. "I look forward to moving forwarding in this process."
Claire Waxman, a former APC member whose son attended Fireweed, said, "The best part of being human is that we can keep going forward. We need to acknowledge that everyone is ready to start that process, not start with any feelings except from where we start today."
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.