Everett schools chief to make early exit

EVERETT — Everett School District Superintendent Carol Whitehead announced Friday she will retire in September, a move she blamed in part on a recent death threat.

In a statement posted on the school district’s Web site, Whitehead said she will leave the district’s top job Sept. 1 instead of waiting until January as she had planned.

“The recent threat on my life has caused my family to ask me to reconsider that timeline,” Whitehead was quoted as telling school board members on the school district’s Web site.

“I have been pleased to serve as your superintendent for the past eight years. I believe we, and all the others in this excellent organization, have worked well together to accomplish much for this community and its children,” Whitehead was quoted on the Web page.

Whitehead did not return calls to her home or office Friday.

Whitehead has been Everett’s school chief since 2000. She was named the Washington State Superintendent of the Year in 2004 for her leadership in the 18,500-student, 1,700-employee district that has a $161 million annual operating budget. In 2006-2007, the district brought in more than $71 million in local taxes.

Whitehead has faced recent controversy over the district’s decision in 2007 to install a surveillance camera in the classroom of a Cascade High School teacher who disregarded Whitehead’s orders and helped students put out an “underground” newspaper.

Suspicions that Whitehead had allowed surveillance became public shortly before Whitehead told police she’d received a death threat in the mail on April 23.

Roy Yates, a former school board member who has maintained a close friendship with Whitehead since he stepped down last year, said the death threat affected her.

“She talked to me and my wife about it right after it happened,” he said. “From our standpoint, we were just trying to console her. Her comments were she was just shaken by it and understandably so.”

Yates said Whitehead gave the district solid leadership.

“It’s a well-deserved retirement,” he said. “She has done a lot and has given a lot.”

No current school board members returned phone calls Friday afternoon, but all five praised Whitehead on the district’s Web site.

Whitehead announced her retirement in a special school board meeting at noon Friday.

The Everett teachers union on June 2 filed a complaint against the school district, charging that Whitehead and other officials committed an unfair labor practice by installing surveillance equipment in a classroom.

Whitehead and other district representatives had repeatedly denied that surveillance occurred.

On May 23, however, she acknowledged to school board members that she’d consulted with Assistant Superintendent Karst Brandsma about the use of a video camera before it was installed.

Brandsma authorized the camera’s use in the hallway near the teacher’s classroom, but it was installed inside the classroom, Whitehead told the board.

The admission came as the school district was preparing to comply with a public records request from The Herald, seeking billing statements related to surveillance. The documents, released to the newspaper a few days later, confirmed the school district spent close to $2,000 to have a private company temporarily install the camera at Cascade.

Whitehead’s handling of the camera controversy has set a poor example for students, said Mitch Cogdill, an Everett attorney who represents the teachers’ union and teacher whose activities were being recorded.

It was his questioning of district officials in a deposition in March that first raised suspicions that the surveillance had occurred.

“The biggest thought I have is that somebody, someplace must have reached her, or some message must have reached her, concerning the loss of trust and faith that the recent acts have created for the public, teachers and the students,” Cogdill said.

Kim Mead, president of the 1,200-member teachers’ union, said Whitehead brought some good qualities to the job.

“The reality is she was an intelligent woman who found a common direction for this district,” Mead said. “It’s unfortunate that she is ending her career on this note. The reality is the working conditions of the teachers of Everett still need to be addressed.”

After Whitehead reported the threat, district officials hired off-duty Everett police officers to patrol the administration office during business hours.

Everett police detectives continue to investigate the threat. They haven’t found any new leads in the case, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said on Friday. Anonymous death threats can be difficult to track down.

Whitehead’s announcement won’t affect how police proceed with their investigation.

“Whether she’s superintendent or enjoying retirement, we’ll investigate to every extent possible,” Goetz said.

The concealed camera was placed on the ceiling inside the classroom of Kay Powers, who was an English and journalism teacher at Cascade High School. Powers was suspended in June and fired in November for helping students publish an underground newspaper using district computers and equipment despite warnings not to do so.

Whitehead said the purpose of the camera was to determine who was entering and leaving the classroom on weekends and late in the evening to ensure the safety of a student.

Powers, 65, was reinstated after the district and the teachers union reached a settlement in April. She is now teaching English at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek.

The teachers union complaint was filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission in Olympia. A hearing officer is expected to be assigned the case.

Whitehead has focused much of her attention this year on generating support for construction of a proposed new $28 million central administration headquarters.

The building would be on district-owned land at the south end of Everett Memorial Stadium on Broadway Avenue near 41st Street. It could open as early as 2010.

Whitehead in April suggested the project could be financed without using voter-approved bond or levy dollars. The money will come from interest on investments, lease revenues, state matching funds and possibly the sale of property.

Whitehead spent much of career in Everett, but also taught in Florida, Indiana and Georgia. Between 1978 and 1988, she worked as a reading specialist at four Everett elementary schools, served as principal at two others and alter became director of curriculum and instruction.

The Everett School Board recruited Whitehead, then in Bremerton, to apply for the superintendent post in 2000 to succeed Monte Littell.

Bill Reed, a community activist and accounting instructor at Everett Community College, said he hopes the board will seek public feedback in choosing her successor. “I would hope all of the community is involved in picking the next superintendent,” he said.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or stevick@heraldnet.com.

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