Principal’s ouster draws fire

LONGVIEW — New federal rules for low-performing schools have pushed Principal Bill Marshall out at Monticello Middle School, causing outrage among his co-workers, students, parents and former students.

Marshall, 59, announced Tuesday he is stepping down after Longview School officials said they were forced into removing him as principal. He will retire at the end of this school year, one year earlier than he’d planned, unless another job offer within the district appeals to him, Marshall said Thursday.

A parent group is planning a rally to “March for Marshall” on Ocean Beach Highway sometime next week as a show of support for the popular principal. Several students also said they are planning to leave their classes next week in protest.

“Everybody is upset about it,” said Monticello eighth-grader Taryn Tomblingson, 14, of Marshall’s departure. “I think he’s probably the best principal anybody could ask for.”

Marshall, a 37-year Longview educator, has been principal the last eight years at Monticello.

“It did come as a surprise to me,” Marshall said. “I think I’ve done the best I can over my 37-year career here.”

The sanctions removing Marshall from his job stem from a national list of low-performing schools sent to school districts in late January. The bottom 5 percent of these schools, which includes Monticello, were offered five options for improvement.

Most of the options involve removing the school’s principal or changing the school’s administrative structure. One option calls for closing the school. Longview School District Superintendent Suzanne Cusick said the option selected by the district was the only viable one.

Schools on the list (a complete list should be announced within a few weeks) all have two things in common: students have tested low for three consecutive years and the schools qualify for, but don’t receive, federal Title 1 money, which provides additional support for schools serving a high number of poor students. Longview School District only allocates Title 1 dollars to its five poorest elementary schools, which face a separate set sanctions if students test poorly.

Monticello is the only Longview school on the new list, Cusick said.

Until the federal rule change, not being a Title 1 school protected Monticello from federal sanctions.

Cusick said she, and state officials, are still struggling to understand the new federal guidelines. The state superintendent’s office also didn’t learn about the sanctions until Jan. 28, she said, and many superintendents are asking “Why didn’t we know a year ago so maybe we could have done something?” and better prepare, Cusick said.

Marshall said he felt blind-sided upon hearing the news two weeks ago.

“I’ve been dealing with that privately and publicly since that time,” he said. “There has been a real outpouring of support from parents and students.”

Education consultants hired by the federal government will be at Monticello on Monday to observe and then eventually recommend the amount of federal dollars needed to help the school improve its performance.

Meanwhile the district hopes to keep Marshall in the district in some other capacity and Tuesday said there might be an opening in the central administration office, Marshall said.

He said he might be interested, depending on the job.

Cusick said it would be difficult to lose a well-established educator like Marshall, who has enriched the lives of thousands of children.

“It will be emotional for a while … He will be truly missed,” she said.

Monticello parent Karen Plank said Marshall has served his students wonderfully and she’s upset to lose him. Parents need to take better responsibility for their children’s’ education, she said.

“I think it’s crap … You want to fire him? Fire the parents,” she said.

In particular, Plank said she admires Marshall’s unique way of connecting and communicating with his students.

“He had a way of, when he talked to kids, he didn’t talk down to kids … He earned their respect by communicating with them in a way they could understand,” she said.

Tomblingson, the eighth-grader, agrees.

“He really listens to what you have to say,” she said. “He listens to both sides of the story when you get in trouble.”

Monticello struggles with a high student-poverty rate (67 percent of its students qualified for free and reduced lunches last year), language barriers and attendance problems, Marshall said. Still, he felt like staff and students were making gains despite the low test scores.

“These kids deserve the best. We’ve given them the best. I don’t feel like I’ve shortchanged these kids,” he said.

Options presented to Monticello Middle School by the federal government. (The school is implementing the “transformation” model.)

— Do nothing and likely lose federal grant money for school improvement. — Turnaround — Replace the principal; transfer at least 50 percent of staff members to other schools; improve instructional strategies and professional development; increase learning times and strengthen home and community partnerships. — Restart — Convert the school to a charter school or one operated by an education management organization. (Charter schools are not an option in Washington state). — Closure — Close the school and enroll students in a nearby higher achieving school. — Transformation — Replace the principal, improve instructional strategies and professional development, identify and reward staff who are increasing student outcomes and support those who are not, improve professional development, increase learning times, and strengthen home and community partnerships.

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