Broward schools shuffling some principals

When it comes to Broward’s new school principal evaluations, all sides can agree on only one thing: The new system means that about a dozen school principals are set to be reassigned during the summer break.

Just about every other aspect of the issue is bogged down in finger-pointing and differing versions of the truth. Superintendent Robert Runcie argues the principal reassignments are simply business as usual: Broward has always shuffled a few of its principals, he says, just like any large organization adjusts its management ranks.

But Broward’s Principals and Assistants Association — along with parents at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — accuse Runcie of implementing an unjust “hit list” for getting rid of principals that district administrators don’t like.

So far, Stoneman Douglas Principal Washington Collado is the only principal whose upcoming reassignment is publicly known. The principals association says it has identified at least 14 who are set to be moved, but it is not releasing their names. Some of those principals, said association executive director Lisa Maxwell, are keeping their fate quiet for now because they don’t want to distract students who are preparing for the upcoming FCAT.

Maxwell, along with several Douglas High parents, publicly asked Runcie and School Board members to reconsider the moves on Monday. Not only did Runcie refuse to back down, but the superintendent insisted there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s really going on.

“This is something we do every year, we look at our leaders in our schools,” Runcie told a crowd of reporters. “We want to make sure that they’re in a situation where they can be successful, and where they’re not ... we look to move them into someplace else.”

Runcie denied that the district is using any special new “formula” to grade principals, but Maxwell said that’s exactly what’s happening. The formula, she said, includes student achievement at a particular school, the number of complaints against a principal, and the answer that students and teachers provide to one particular survey question: “Does the principal care about my concerns?”

Maxwell said principals who scored low on the formula were, in some cases, told that they were poor performers. A demotion to assistant principal is a real possibility, she said, because although these principals will be allowed to apply for jobs at other schools, the district has made clear that it doesn’t think much of their leadership.

“This has never happened in this district,” Maxwell said. “People are like ‘What just happened to me?’ ”

At Douglas, news of the principal’s imminent departure has rekindled the anger of parents who battled with Runcie a few months ago over a cheerleading controversy. Runcie in September removed cheerleading coach Melissa Prochilo after accusations of booster club misspending, bullying, and an unauthorized field trip in which students forged their parents’ signatures to attend.

Though there was clear evidence of problems in the cheer program — eight cheerleaders signed sworn statements that Prochilo pressured them to forge signatures, and cancelled checks showed booster club money being spent in violation of district rules — Prochilo was still popular with many Douglas parents and students.

Collado was one of Prochilo’s strongest backers. After one parent critical of the coach continued to raise questions about how the cheer program was run, Collado banned her from the school — threatening her with “possible arrest” if she set foot on campus.

When that parent, Joann Gavin, asked to appeal the principal’s decision, the district’s legal staff told her in writing that she had “no legal right of due process and no legal right to a hearing or an investigation.”

Now, in fighting the new evaluation system, Broward’s principal association is invoking principals’ own due process rights, calling it “a fundamental concept of fairness.”

Maxwell said there’s a difference between parents and district employees asking for due process — she called it a legal term meant for employees, though she added that parents of course have constitutional rights. Maxwell said her organization hasn’t ruled out a lawsuit against the district.

Runcie, meanwhile, promised to meet Tuesday with Douglas High parents, some of whom argue that the school’s strong academic performance (it’s an “A” school this year) means Collado deserves to stay. Douglas parent Scott Etheridge predicted Runcie will have his hands full.

“I think he’s walking into a very dangerous den,” Etheridge said.

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