Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor CSD School Committee members voted 5-1 to hire Camden-Rockport Elementary School Assistant Principal Shawna Kurr as principal of Boothbay Region Elementary School. The early Tuesday morning meeting brought about two dozen parents and teachers together, including several prepared to voice concern over community favorite BRES Assistant Principal Tricia Campbell not receiving the recommendation.
Chair Larry Colcord said a search committee appointed by the board consisted of three administrators, two committee members, three teachers and two community members.
Said Colcord, “It was a very good pool of candidates that they had … (and) the person that was nominated was brought forward to the superintendent by this board. Shawna Kurr is who the committee chose by a majority of opinion … Due to confidentiality, we cannot say anything about anyone.”
Campbell was not at the meeting. Her husband Jason spoke as a community member. He cited his disappointment and his concern for the school and the community.
Said Campbell, “I'm here to just publicly disagree with this decision because I don't feel that it actually helps our community at all … I'm not speaking for her and she doesn't even know I'm here, but I just find the decision is almost like a slap in the face to what's been going on here in the schools … She loves those kids and I just don't see where hiring someone from another place when we already have this great asset right here in this school system who is already primed and ready to go …”
Campbell said all the committee has to do is ask the community who should get the job and the answer would be clear. Colcord said committee members are elected by the community which has to have faith that the members will act in the best interest of the students.
“I think a lot of the community would not have faith. I mean, maybe even a lack of confidence,” said Campbell.
Asked if there was a reason Tricia Campbell was overlooked for Kurr, Colcord said again that the information is confidential.
“That seems awfully convenient, then,” said Campbell. “This impacts our community and our kids … It just all seems strange. She would fight for everyone here and I think it's interesting, now, that when it comes time, no one is willing to fight for her.”
Resident Tom Perkins read aloud outgoing principal Mark Tess's recent letter to the editor which illustrated the longtime administrator's disappointment in the committee for not first considering Campbell's candidacy.
“Mark Tess: probably one of the biggest experts possibly on who should fill his position,” Perkins said after finishing the letter. “Well, we're here to take back our school and our community and I would implore you, as has been said before, to do another round of interviews. Clearly, there's a large group that isn't comfortable with the recommendation thus far and there is absolutely nothing to be lost by delaying this process a little bit.”
BRES teacher Kathleen Hartley said she spoke with a search committee member who told her that search committee members were not asked for their opinions, that they simply generated questions for the search process.
Parent Pnina Pangburn is not against bringing an outsider into the community, but said she cannot understand why Campbell would be passed over especially when an important member of the community like Tess is moving on. Resident Ruth Macy said keeping talent in-house is extremely important, especially for this region; Steve Lewis said it makes more sense to him to choose someone from the community when that opportunity arises, and he questioned the legality of keeping the search committee anonymous.
“When you have a talent like Tricia and you let her go, she's going to get a job somewhere else,” said Macy. “Maybe she'll hang on for five years, but this is a huge slap in the face. She's not going to stay. She’s going to leave and you know what? Whoever gets her is going to be so lucky.”
Colcord said he and the rest of the committee members simply want to honor the search process come what may and that it should not be mistaken for any slights against Campbell.
“This person that's being nominated is – you don't know her – we feel that she is a very viable candidate,” said Colcord.
“I don't think this is about her,” said BRES teacher Lauren Brown.
Superintendent Keith Laser talked about Kurr because audience members wanted a greater understanding of why she was chosen. A longtime educator and assistant principal of two schools, Laser said she has been at Camden-Rockland Elementary for five to six years, has a special education background and has children of her own.
“So, all the things that Tricia has? I think something fishy is going on,” Campbell said.
Laser said he understands the frustration, but stressed the search process brought the committee to where it is and great pains were taken to make sure the process was fair.
“They came and made a recommendation to me. I'm bringing forth to the school board my recommendation. That is my responsibility as a superintendent – to bring forth who I believe is the best candidate for the school and that is exactly what I am doing today …”
Macy suggested Kurr is likely using BRES as a stepping stone as most education professionals do, and that overlooking Campbell was personal for Laser.
“That’s not a fair assessment (to) say that, ma'am, that she disagreed with me, so I brought that name forward? That's not appropriate and that's not true,” Laser said.
“She's a strong advocate for our children who I am thankful for every single day,” continued Macy.
“I believe all my administrators are strong advocates for children. As are my teachers.”
“Right, but Tricia, if you hire her, will stay here and serve probably as long as Mark Tess, then we will have her leadership for a long time to come.”
In an email, Tess described the committee’s decision as a tragedy for the school system and community as a whole:
“I worked closely with Tricia for four years. I know the commitment and passion she has for our school and community. Tricia is well respected. She will get a job as a principal. However this is the one she wanted. I am devastated by this decision.”