‘Co-principals’ lead at HRVHS

A one-year marriage of sorts began last Thursday for Steve Fisk and Martha Capovilla at Hood River Valley High School.

The educators will apply their collegial relationship to an experiment: they are now HRVHS co-principals, following School Board approval Wednesday.

Board Member Anne Saxby called it “the Mom and Pop thing.”

The School Board approved the arrangement following Monday’s abrupt departure of former principal Ben Kolb. The School Board begrudgingly accepted Kolb’s resignation Wednesday.

Exit Kolb, and for the rest of the 2002-03 school year Capovilla and Fisk will share the job of directing daily operations at the 1,100-student school.

“It’s a terrific opportunity to pull our staff together, and our kids,” Capovilla said. She and Fisk offered to superintendent Jerry Sessions Monday to work out a co-principalship.

“We have a really good working relationship,” Fisk told the school board. “It’s a pretty incredible opportunity. I think we can make it work.”

Capovilla said, “it’s a one-year arrangement. If it works, great, we may look at longer term.”

Kolb quit to take a job in California, less than four weeks into the new school year. Sessions said the district will look into hiring a permanent principal later this year. Capovilla is in her third year at HRVHS, Fisk his fourth.

Kolb did not make a statement to all members of the staff nor to the student body in general — a point which rankled school board members. “Some of the kids were pretty hurt by that. You’ll need to be sensitive to that in the next couple of weeks,” said Jan Veldhuisen Virk, school board chairwoman, told Fisk and Capovilla. Kolb will be asked to write a letter that the interim administrators can read to the students.

The high school administrative team was already short-handed compared to last school year. The district eliminated the assistant principal for athletics and activities position held by Glenn Elliott at the end of 2001-02.

Kolb’s resignation is one few people in the district thought would happen as suddenly as it did. Officials knew Kolb was interviewing for other jobs, but they did not expect him to depart the way he did.

Nonetheless, it was Capovilla and Fisk who, with help of staff, had been managing the school much of the time during Kolb’s absences in the first weeks of school.

If anything, board members were concerned that Capovilla and Fisk might be too willing to do the job.

“My concern is that you’re both over-achievers,” Veldhuisen Virk told the co-principals. “I mean that in a positive sense. And now you’ll both be asked to do more than you already are doing. You’ll need to allocate things more. You can’t be there from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.”

But Fisk and Capovilla will get help. A third administrator will be assigned, in Brett Emmons, a special education teacher at HRVHS. According to Sessions, Emmons will be appointed a “Teacher on Special Assignment,” to perform student supervision and disciplinary duties. However, Fisk said Emmons will not be able to evaluate teachers because he does not have a principal’s certificate.

“What Brett brings is a real enthusiasm and intelligence,” Fisk said.

Veldhuisen Virk said she asked HRVHS staff members earlier about the proposal by Fisk and Capovilla.

“I was told that if they think they can do it, they can do it,” she said.

Board members pointed to potential drawbacks, in addition to burnout, including:

Situations where parents will be confused when they want to talk to “the person in charge.”

Students and staff playing Fisk and Capovilla off each other.

Excess work hours for the co-principals, particularly during the winter season and its multiple athletic activities.

Fisk concurred that evening supervisory hours could create “a pinch.”

“Get people to help you out,” board member Sue McCarthy advised.

“Keep up the communication,” Veldhuisen Virk cautioned Capovilla and Fisk.

“We want your feedback,” Fisk told the board. “We ask your honest reactions but also your understanding that we’re going through something different.”

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