Search comes up empty; Top three candidates for Friday Harbor Elementary School principal post withdraw

The search for a new principal of Friday Harbor Elementary School appeared headed down the home stretch just days ago.

Now it’s back to square one.

On Monday, just prior to the Journal’s press deadline, San Juan Island School District Superintendent Rick Thompson sent out an email noting that the last of the three top candidates selected for the position had withdrawn from consideration.

“As you know, we scheduled an interview for Denise Wheeler on Wednesday,” Thompson noted in the email. “Denise has withdrawn her candidacy for the position, citing personal reasons. As such, there will be no interviews taking place this week.”

Wheeler, a former elementary and middle school principal, who earned high marks from members the search tasked with finding a replacement for principal Gary Pflueger, is the second finalist to withdraw since a field of eight semi-finalists was whittled down to three.

Late last week, Joseph Landerman, an award-winning educator and principal in Georgia, withdrew his candidacy as well.

Landerman and Wheeler had each been slated to spend an entire day in Friday Harbor to tour the school and to meet with staff, students and parents, and to participate in an hour-long  community forum.

Robin Delazerda, mother of a fifth-grade student and a member of the search committee, said there was no disagreement among the 12-person panel about Wheeler, Landerman and a third finalist, who withdrew prior to scheduling of this week’s next round of interviews, were the top three candidates.

All three possessed the skills and experience, and embodied the qualities and values that the group were searching for.

“It was very clear,” she said of the committee’s decision. “The entire group chose the same three people.”

Thompson said the committee will meet Thursday morning to explore next steps, including the possibility of pursuing interim candidates for the post.

District officials had hoped to fill the position by July 1.

Pflueger, who handed in his resignation in early January, remains as principal only until the end of the school year.

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