Sunnyside principal hiring comes under fire

Superintendent passes over the candidate preferred by interview committee

A dispute has erupted at Sunnyside Elementary School between school district administrators and some parents and teachers over the hiring of a new principal.

An interview committee unanimously selected Libby Culver, the school’s current interim principal, for the position, but Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Bill Esterbrook chose candidate Vanessa Fisher from Aztec to begin as Sunnyside’s principal next year.

Opponents of the decision met Thursday evening with school board members at the elementary school. They complained that they were given no explanation for the selection.

“It feels as though the decision was made in a black box,” said Gregor Gardner, parent of 8-year-old Sunnyside student Cormac Garner. “The parents and the teachers have given their input, suggestions and unanimous support of Libby Culver, and then the decision has come back that someone else is being hired from another district.”

He said there was no acknowledgement of the committee’s input or explanation of how it was incorporated.

Esterbrook could not be reached for comment Friday.

Rhonda Ledford, president of the Sunnyside Parent Teacher Organization, said the interview board looked at four candidates and settled on Culver as the unanimous choice.

“It was indicated in a meeting that we had initially with the human resource director of the district that the interview committee was able to submit only one candidate,” Ledford said. “Those instructions became unclear. It sounds like there was confusion about that.”

School board President Jeff Schell and board member Kristy Rodri explained that the board becomes involved only if there is suspicion the district’s hiring process wasn’t correctly followed.

“We’re still investigating the process,” Schell said.

If the process was flawed, the selection could be overturned, and the process repeated, Schell said.

Board member Julie Levy expressed her desire to make sure parents, students and teachers feel their voices are heard.

Sunnyside’s interview committee, along with concerned parents and teachers, will have the opportunity to speak about the matter at the regular school board meeting on March 20.

Ledford said a petition would be circulated at the school’s St. Patrick’s Day Party on March 17.

Herald Staff Writer Emery Cowan contributed to this report.