School leaders fall under scrutiny

The Jerry Sessions situation remains unsettled.

The superintendent’s status remains a prime topic for the Hood River County School District School Board, which decided Wednesday to target the teaching license of former high school principal Ben Kolb.

Meanwhile, the board received a positive progress report from high school co-principals Martha Capovilla and Steve Fisk, who stepped into the shared job when Kolb resigned.

The board will seek suspension of Kolb’s Oregon license after Kolb quit Sept. 23 on two days’ notice to take a job in California. The board instructed Sessions to write a letter to the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the state teacher and administrator licensing body, asking it suspend Kolb’s license through the end of the school year, which Sessions said is as long as the district would be able to do. The commission will inform Kolb by letter, and Kolb can then request a hearing to tell his side of the story.

“Basically he walked out of his job,” board member Anne Saxby said. Sessions had asked Kolb to stay two more weeks, then reduced it to one week, but Kolb cleaned out his desk on Sept. 23 and left.

“Even with (two weeks) we were terribly lenient,” Saxby said. “The reality is he left us in a lurch. That sends a message if we just said, ‘and so it goes.’ These are important jobs. You can’t just walk out on them.”

Parent Michael Fifer told the board that its action is a good example for kids.

“It lets them know that adults will be held accountable and in the future they will be, too. I think it’s important we show them that,” Fifer said.

As district officials hoped, Kolb wrote a letter this week to the high school students and staff, Sessions said. The letter will be distributed to the student body via the student publication The Talon.

Sessions said that in the letter Kolb gave the background of his search for a position in California and how the job with Tamalpais Union School District, in Marin County, came about late in the summer. Sessions said Kolb averred that the timing of his departure was bad but that “he wished them the best and left them in good hands with Steve (Fisk) and Martha (Capovilla.)”

“It helps,” Sessions said of the letter. “When you depart quickly like that you need to put some closure on it. It helps the kids know it has nothing to do with them.”

Fisk and Capovilla gave credit to students and staff for helping the smooth transition following Kolb’s abrupt departure.

“So far, it’s a good thing,” Capovilla said of the co-principalship. Capovilla retained her student activities duties, and added budgetary duties, while Fisk continues in student management, and added facilities responsibility. Special Education teacher Brett Emmons has been appointed to serve as Dean of Students, and is contributing well, Fisk said.

They stressed that parents can approach either Fisk or Capovilla on any matter, and that the administrative team works for consensus with each other and with staff.

“We both continually talk about what’s going to be best for our students and staff,” Fisk said.

In the Sessions disciplinary matter, the board decided in its Wednesday meeting at Hood River Middle School to instruct its attorney, Jeff Baker, to meet with Sessions’ attorney “to go over the matters discussed in executive session” Wednesday. Baker would only elaborate that his meeting with Jim Browne, Sessions’ counsel, will be “to resolve remaining issues with the school board.”

(By law, executive session discussions cannot be reported upon.) Sessions declined comment Friday morning.

Board chairwoman Jan Veldhuisen Virk opened the meeting Wednesday with a statement from the board relating to Sessions’ Sept. 25 resignation. The board accepted the resignation, due to take effect June 30, 2003, after it was revealed that Sessions had made an unauthorized payment of $49,000 to former high school athletic director Glenn Elliott, and then failed to inform the board about it.

In her statement, Virk said the resignation followed the board’s decision that it lacked confidence in Sessions’ leadership.

“This lack of confidence began from Mr. Sessions’ decision to make substantial payments to former athletic director Glenn Elliot. The board did not authorize these payments and was not aware they were made until after the fact. In addition, Mr. Sessions did not tell the Board of the payments until individual board members questioned him,” Veldhuisen Virk wrote.

“The entire board believed that these actions severely damaged the relationship of trust between it and Mr. Sessions, and a majority of the board felt that the relationship could not be repaired.” (The full text is on page A4.)

Veldhuisen Virk said, “In continuation of the remainder of the year, the Board accepts the additional responsibilities it will face. We acknowledge and accept that we must led the district. We are confident that we can continue to provide our children with a quality education.

She added that in executive session Wednesday the board would “consider options in the face of these developments.”

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