School board rejects hiring committee's recommendation for HES principal, 4-3

April 17, 2019

The position of Hinckley Elementary (HE) Principal is still open after the April meeting of the Hinckley-Finlayson School Board.


A hiring committee was put together by the board to interview potential replacements for Jeff Wilson, whose position was left vacant in late August 2018, when he took a job in a different district. The position has been covered this year by Brian Masterson, who is also the Hinckley-Finlayson High School (HFHS) Principal.


The hiring committee sent their recommendation to the board on April 8, at the regular school board meeting, through Superintendent Rob Prater. Bonnie Scullard, current athletic director, dean of students and acting assistant principal at HFHS was their choice.


The process started out with 22 applicants, it was then narrowed down to 11, then six and finally three, with Scullard being the choice of the committee.


Board member Steve Grinsteinner said although he was sure Scullard was qualified for the job, he had been contacted by a lot of parents that didn’t think she would be a good fit.


Board member Leo Irlbeck said he was in favor of Scullard getting the position. “Her track record as dean at the high school, in my opinion, has been fantastic,” he said. “Going to some of the games and seeing the rapport she has with some of these kids is, in my opinion, amazing. She knows the kids, their names and what makes them tick.”


Kala Roberts, board chair, voiced concerns that the district has never hired a local person for this job, except for a few cases. She was concerned there could be families that would be biased before she even starts. 


Board member Angela Grochowski supported the committee, saying Scullard has done a wonderful job up to this point. “I have heard nothing bad about the decision that was made. I think we have a committee in place to do different things.” 


“My thoughts are that there is a hiring committee put into place, and they put a lot of time into it. I respect the people that were on it and their decision to employ Bonnie as principal,” said board member Jodie Storlie. “I would have an issue if they were to hire the person that didn’t have the credentials, but I don’t see an issue. It was probably a tough decision for the committee.”


Board member Dwaine Palmer said his concern was that the school board did not have direct input. Irlbeck said he thought the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) had recommended there not be a school board member on the hiring committee. Prater confirmed this.


“Bonnie has done a great job as athletic director and dean,” said Mary Ellen Von Rueden. “There are things that if she hadn’t pursued we wouldn’t have, such as the new scoreboards. Because she has done such a wonderful job, I would like to see her stay there,” she concluded.


“But should we punish her for doing such a great job here that she can’t take a job that is higher up with more responsibility, a job she applied for?” asked Irlbeck.


A motion was made by Leo Irlbeck that Scullard be hired for the position of elementary principal. The motion was defeated 4-3 with Grinsteinner, Von Rueden, Roberts and Palmer voting against and Irlbeck, Storlie and Grochowski voting for. 


Work session


On Monday, April 15, the H-F School Board held a work session. On the agenda was the hiring process. The school board was met with a sea of red H-F Jaguars shirts as teachers, staff members, parents and community members from the district came out to support the hiring committee’s decision to hire Scullard as the HES principal.


Five groups addressed the school board, including the hiring committee, Finlayson Elementary staff members, the HES PTO and the H-F Retention committee. These groups all spoke out in favor of hiring Scullard. 


Beth Cuchna, a member of the hiring committee, read a letter that was sent to the school board regarding the process. The process chosen was a multi-tier interview system. The process included a phone interview, checking of references, welcoming formal interview, tour of the school interview, a group interview and a mock staff meeting, which included an inbox activity, which is a list of questions to find out how the candidate would respond and handle certain situations. 


The process continued until the candidate pool was narrowed down to three. On March 8, it was unanimously decided that Scullard should be the next principal. 


“The committee wholeheartedly felt she met all the needs our building has. Someone who keeps the best interests of our students in the forefront, strong leadership skills, approachable attitude, actively engaged in our community, a member of our community and someone with a strong behavioral background,” read Cuchna. “We felt positive and excited for the upcoming school year.” The letter continued by saying that that feeling was decimated when the school board voted against their decision.


Representatives from Finlayson Elementary and the HES PTO also read letters in support of the hiring committee and their decision to choose Scullard as the next principal.


Alaina Williams spoke on behalf of the H-F Retention Committee. “Teacher retention and climate go hand in hand,” said Williams. “This situation has affected the climate of our staff members. We need to keep good teachers and allow them to grow and flourish. We want them to work for us. We also want support from our school board. We want to be known, valued and challenged as well.”


Roberts said, “If this came as a surprise to people on April 8, there were some communication problems.” She continued by saying the board had asked questions of the MSBA regarding how to handle things, being this was a controversial topic. It was a process for them as well, not just a decision made without any forethought. 


Irlbeck disagreed with Roberts, saying he didn’t think there was a chance that Scullard wouldn’t get the job. He said he could see one or two voting against it, but not four. “I don’t see how you can appoint a committee and throw it out because we didn’t like the decision. I’m so frustrated. I’m actually embarrassed to be a school board member right now.” He concluded by stating that he would like to think the board could correct a major wrong by re-voting on this and hiring Scullard.


Von Rueden suggested a special meeting to discuss this further. The meeting will be held on Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in the H-F board room. 

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