With the retirement of Dr. Robert Hernandez, a selection committee was formed to review applications and select a new permanent principal for the 2020-2021 school year and beyond. As a result of the process, Dr. Comfort Akwaji-Anderson, who previously served as IMSA’s Dean of Faculty, was appointed by Dr. Torres as the new principal. However, the two faculty representatives on the principal search committee, Ms. Erin Micklo (English) and Ms. Marti Shirley (Mathematics/Computer Science), were excluded from this selection discussion for unclear reasons.
In the Faculty Liaison Report to the IMSA Board of Trustees from May 20, Dr. Eric Rettberg (English) noted that: “Many faculty members have expressed concern about the integrity of the principal search process,” since Ms. Micklo and Ms. Shirley “were invited to participate in an initial review of applications, [but] they never saw the application of the new principal and were excluded from discussions that led to her selection and appointment in a process without interviews.”
In the following interview, Ms. Micklo and Ms. Shirley shared their original hopes for the selection process, thoughts on reasons behind their exclusion, and the possible impacts of the lack of faculty voice in the final administrative decision.
Q: What role were both of you supposed to play in the decision of the principal selection committee?
Ms. Micklo: We were the faculty representatives. Different faculty could apply if they were interested in being the representatives. Then Dr. Torres selected two faculty representatives to be on the committee, and he selected us.
Ms. Shirley: I think our role was to represent the voice and the interests of the faculty and staff. So in going through resumes and interviews, the idea would be that we would be cognizant and look for the attributes and characteristics, or skills, that we felt would be most beneficial in that role to support teaching and learning in our classrooms.
Q: If you had gotten to be a part of the final selection committee what would you have tried to emphasize in your decision?
Ms. Shirley: I think a strong curricular background was something that was important to faculty and staff. I know personally I would have been looking for the leadership experience that was open to continuing IMSA as a learning lab, [and] allowing for experimentation, creativity, and teacher control within the classroom, while still trying to ensure a high academic rigor and as much consistency among classes as possible – which is a lot to ask in a leader, someone who can be open enough to cultivate an environment where people feel able to fail and trust one another and are willing to experiment and yet have a strong enough hand to maintain our standards and that teachers are working together to ensure a certain amount of fairness among classes.
Ms. Micklo: I would add, as faculty representatives, that we wanted to look for someone who would both allow for academic freedom, while also encouraging teachers to continue both collaborating and creating curriculum in the best interest of our students. We were also interested in someone who had a leadership role with faculty, such as a former principal or dean or someone with teaching experience.
Ms. Shirley: I think that teaching experience is key. We wanted someone who knew what it was like to be in the classroom.
Q: From your perspective, why do you think you were not included in the on the committee?
Ms. Micklo: We were told that those decisions were made by Dr. Torres and the Cabinet as part of a cabinet meeting.
Ms. Shirley: Also, there seemed to be [a desire] from their perspective to build a position more quickly. They alluded that the circumstances with COVID-19 brought on some of that decision-making because as we continue moving forward in this unusual time it would be unnerving from some perspectives to not have a leader in the role of principal to help the school move forward in making these decisions. Ms. Micklo, would you say that is an accurate description of the conversation?
Ms. Micklo: They did tell us that COVID-19 played a role in the decision. That doesn’t fully address your question, I don’t think that’s saying why we weren’t part of it. That’s why the decision was made in the time frame and the manner it was made. But we don’t know why we were not included.
Q: How could this exclusion impact administration and faculty communication?
Ms. Micklo: It is very important to our faculty to have a voice in decisions that will impact not only our jobs as educators but our ability to work well with our students. I think that the faculty will continue to emphasize to the administration that having a voice is important to us. The faculty believes in working with the administrators – not working against the administrators – to make IMSA the best place it can be because we care about our students and IMSA. So I think we will continue to insist on a role in decision-making when it comes to our students.
Ms. Shirley: The faculty will continue to seek out ways to be heard and have discussions with administrators and cabinet members to articulate needs, concerns, and hopes. Also, finding ways to bring [these needs and concerns] to administration in hopes of being addressed to ensure students have the best experience and that teachers have the resources to give it to them. Sometimes, we may not like how a decision is made, we may not agree with the decision, we may love the decision but hate the process. We, as a faculty, will not allow those things to keep from working towards the best interests of our students.
Due to his focus on closing the school year and planning for the fall, Dr. Torres declined a request for an interview.