School board accepts resignation, principal's days are numbered

Gary Pfleuger
Gary Pfleuger's days as principal of F.H. Elementary School are number. His resignation was accepted in a 5-0 vote Jan. 11 by the San Juan Island school board. (Pfleuger will remain in his post until the school year ends).
— image credit: Journal file photo

Those who came expecting answers, left with frustrations instead.

The San Juan Island school board -- confronted by a distrustful crowd -- remained steadfast and united in voting without dissent Jan. 11 to accept the resignation of principal Gary Pfleuger.

Citing confidentiality laws, members of the school board declined to discuss the principal's performance or its reasons for accepting his resignation in that public forum.

The board's decision followed an outpouring of community support, much of which was emotionally charged, for a principal who's proven widely popular during a two-plus-year tenure at the helm of the elementary school.

Surrounded by a standing-only-room crowd, board members sat mostly silent as a legion of faculty, parents and various islanders, as well as several students, voiced appreciation for the job that Pfleuger has done and for the atmosphere he's helped to create, and appealed for answers for the schism that prompted his recent resignation.

Alexis Carter said she was "heartbroken, sick and shocked" to hear that Pfleuger would be leaving the school.

Pfleuger, who six days earlier handed in a letter of resignation, said in an interview with The Journal that he chose, in large part, to resign over a "difference of opinion" between the board and himself regarding the "instructional leadership" of the school. He reminded the audience that the decision to resign was his own, and asked that the decision be respected.

He will remain principal until the end of the school year.

Hired in 2008, Pfleuger, a school administrator for 21 years and teacher for 10, was principal of Salmon Middle School in Salmon, Idaho, before joining San Juan Island School District. He succeeded Jodi Metzger, who took over the elementary school reigns in 2004.

Though hesitant to speak in front of a crowd, Sarah Galt said she felt compelled to broadcast her concerns.

"I'm feeling extremely stressed out if you think you'll find someone better than Gary," Galt said. "Our kids will be at a loss without him."

Others encouraged the board to reject Pfleuger's resignation.

"This would be a mistake," Patricia Gislason said. "Can't we rethink this?"

Elementary student Brian Fleming, a 5th-grader, was mostly confused and angry.

"I have no idea why you're doing this and it's making me very mad," Brian told the board.

School board President David McCauley acknowledged the "disappointment" and "disillusionment" that many may have over Pfleuger's pending departure and the process that led to it. He said it will be incumbent on the board to maintain or win back the community's "trust" in the process of searching for a new principal.

McCauley added the process of finding a replacement will be as transparent and as "inclusive" as of those in the past, and that the district will strive to make that upcoming process even "more visible" -- through the use perhaps of social media as well as e-mail updates -- because of the discord.

Details of the upcoming search are expected to be discussed by the board at its Jan. 26 meeting.

Still, some contend the that priorities the board may have for the leadership of the school may be at odds with those of the community and of the faculty.

"My concern is about the future," Michael Biggers of the elementary school said. "It's quite evident with what's happened that what you think is most important is not what we think is most important, and there it is."

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