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Eastside Catholic president resigns amid uproar over firing
The president of Eastside Catholic School has resigned amid the fallout from her decision to dismiss the vice principal for marrying his gay partner.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The president and CEO of Eastside Catholic School has resigned amid unrelenting protests over her decision to dismiss the school’s vice principal for marrying his gay partner.
In December, Sister Mary Tracy fired Vice Principal Mark Zmuda, who also served as the school’s swim coach, saying his marriage to a man violated the Roman Catholic teachings he’d agreed to uphold when he began working at the school.
Her resignation, submitted to the Eastside board of trustees Monday and made public Tuesday, was effective immediately.
It comes just days before a planned schoolwide meeting Thursday, during which board members — who have been the target of persistent lobbying by students, alumni and parents — are expected to field parents’ questions.
The circumstances surrounding Zmuda’s dismissal — and the demonstrations that followed — have presented a public-relations challenge for the private, independent Sammamish school of 935 middle-school and high-school students, affiliated with the Seattle Archdiocese but overseen by its own board of trustees.
Tracy’s statements about whether Zmuda was fired or resigned, and what role the Seattle archbishop played in that decision, at times contradicted those of the school’s attorney and the archdiocese.
“Sister Mary came to this decision after much prayer and reflection,” said a statement emailed Tuesday to the Eastside Catholic community. “For Sister Mary it was a difficult but necessary decision so that a new leader can be brought in to ensure the entire Eastside Catholic community is on a positive path forward.”
The school says it plans to start a search for Tracy’s replacement right away and that Principal Polly Skinner and interim Vice Principal Tom Lord will lead the school in the interim.
Tracy did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
The co-chairmen of Eastside’s board were not immediately available for comment.
Tracy, 63, had more than 30 years of leadership experience with the Seattle Archdiocese and at area Catholic schools before 2010, when she joined Eastside as president and CEO.
Her dismissal of Zmuda triggered a sit-in protest by Eastside students that spread to another local Catholic school, led to rallies in front of the Seattle Archdiocese’s offices and launched a global campaign whose supporters hope to nudge the school and the church on issues of sexuality.
This past month, Eastside has been criticized for the lack of clarity on the Zmuda decision, with its attorney insisting the vice principal resigned, while Tracy said he was terminated.
For his part, Zmuda said in a video interview that he was terminated and that Tracy offered him the option of divorcing his partner of five months and having a commitment ceremony instead.
Tracy said she had been looking for ways to keep him.
Corey Sinser, a 2006 graduate of Eastside, called Tracy’s resignation a “step in the right direction,” but said leadership challenges remain at his alma mater.
He is among a group of alumni and others — angered by Zmuda’s dismissal — who have been lobbying board members for change at the school, including at the top.
“The decision today leads us to believe Eastside Catholic is serious about engaging more deeply and seriously about where we go from here,” Sinser said.
He said he believes the public outcry and pressure on the school and its board over the last month “is indicative of how strongly a lot of forward-thinking Catholics feel about this issue.”
“We’re not done with Mr. Z, the school or discussions of sexuality within the Catholic Church,” Sinser said. “We’re not closing up shop tomorrow morning.”
David Cerino, who has two children at Eastside Catholic, said Tracy did a lot of good over the years and it’s unfortunate that she and Zmuda had to lose their jobs in this way.
“As a parent, you want your children going through an amazing academic ... experience at a school that is fully respected by the other schools around them and by colleges in particular,” he said.
Cerino said he doesn’t fully understand all the circumstances around Tracy’s resignation and looks forward to personally talking to her about it.
“I think that Eastside is an incredible brand and Sister Mary did a lot to increase that brand value,” he said. “I worry this whole situation is detrimental to that brand value.”
Originally from Spokane, Tracy is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
She spent 20 years as dean of students and principal of Holy Names Academy in Seattle and served for 15 years at the National Catholic Educational Association in Washington, D.C.
She holds a master’s degree in literature from the University of Washington and received her undergraduate degree from Fort Wright College in Spokane.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @turnbullL.