Enfield reverses decision to fire Ingraham High principal
One week after she notified Ingraham High Principal Martin Floe that she intended to fire him, Seattle Public Schools Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield announced she would give Floe another year to prove he deserves to keep the job.
Seattle Times education reporter
One week after she notified the principal of Ingraham High School that she intended to fire him, Seattle Schools interim Superintendent Susan Enfield announced Tuesday that she will give him another year to prove he deserves to keep his job.
The decision delighted many Ingraham parents, teachers and students, who had mounted a loud and vigorous campaign on behalf of Martin Floe. It also was a sign that Enfield intends to live up to her promise to listen, and that she is willing to take a middle road.
But her reversal also could have downsides.
"It kind of gives a blueprint for resistance," said Paul Hill, director of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education. "It invites a political response to every action."
He said it also suggests that Enfield didn't realize Floe could mount a strong political response to what she likely viewed as a straightforward personnel decision
That said, Hill and others also thought Enfield changed her mind in a smart way, by giving ground but not backing down entirely.
"There's no shame in listening and reflecting and hearing, on a deep level, what a community is saying," said state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
Cindy Nevins, president of the Ingraham PTSA, said she hopes the whole incident will spur the Ingraham community to lose any complacency it has and work hard over the next year to make the school better.
"The whole community needs to prove to the superintendent that this is a good place, that the leadership is good leadership and deserves to stay," Nevins said. "I think we're all here to support the principal in that, in whatever we can."
Enfield did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday, and neither did Floe. Before Enfield reversed herself, Floe had planned to appeal his dismissal.
Word that Enfield intended to fire Floe spread quickly May 10, the day she notified him in writing that she would not renew his contract for the upcoming school year.
Within 24 hours, Ingraham's staff had met, with nearly everyone signing a statement in support of Floe's leadership. PTSA leaders and other parents started organizing, urging parents and students to write School Board members and Enfield.
They rallied at district headquarters and showed up over the weekend at School Board members' community meetings, where many made passionate statements about Floe, saying he has built a caring and academically challenging school. Many said he personally worked with students to keep them from dropping out and encouraged others to take rigorous classes.
School alumni rallied, too.
Enfield said she wouldn't — and couldn't — give the precise reasons why she wanted to fire Floe, saying it was a personnel matter. But she did explain it wasn't as sudden as it might seem — that it rested on a year's worth of observation and evaluation by Floe's supervisor, Bree Dusseault.
Enfield also said no principal is terminated without a "fair and rigorous process" that includes a lot of work to help him or her improve, including coaching, clear expectations and time to improve.
And even as she reversed her decision Tuesday, Enfield signaled in her letter to parents that Floe needs to work harder to ensure that every student at Ingraham receives high-quality instruction.
"We rely on our principals for other things, too," she wrote, "but this work with teachers — what I and others describe as 'instructional leadership' — must be their top priority."
At first, Enfield had seemed determined to stick by her decision to fire Floe, saying it was final despite the show of support from teachers. And even as student council leaders pleaded with her, she said she would not reverse her decision, said Rebecca Allison, one of those students.
On Monday, though, Enfield said she was carefully weighing the community's concerns about Floe's departure.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, hours before she was to meet with parents and community members, she sent out an email announcing Floe could stay.
After defending her original decision in the email, she wrote that "I also know that a good leader listens" and that she had decided "to provide Mr. Floe with an additional opportunity to succeed."
That news spread fast, too, and Floe quickly called a staff meeting.
Teacher Dean Ferguson said there were hugs, cheers and smiles.
"Everything we said about him is true, and we're so glad that the right thing happened," Ferguson said.
A number of teachers and parents said Enfield's handling of a tough situation bodes well for her leadership of the district.
"How long has it been since there has been a leader in Seattle Public Schools who will actually listen to a community?" said parent Rosemary Daszkiewicz, the PTSA's legislative co-chair.
School Board President Steve Sundquist also said he thought Enfield made a wise decision.
"To me," he said, "it indicates that she's got flexibility. She has a set of convictions and beliefs about where she wants to lead us ... but she also understands that the path forward is not always a straight line."
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