Principal ‘floored’ to be put on leave

After one year, Ignacio school board severs ties with Gary Witherspoon

Witherspoon Enlarge photo


The Ignacio School Board has voted unanimously to put Ignacio High School Principal Gary Witherspoon on paid administrative leave for the rest of the school year.

The five-member board voted Thursday after hearing from a “capacity crowd” that spoke both for and against Witherspoon’s tenure at the high school, according to a report in the Pine River Times. The board also voted 3-2 to not renew Witherspoon’s contract next year.

The board did not discuss either issue before voting, said Rocco Fuschetto, the district’s superintendent.

“I made a recommendation, and they didn’t ask questions,” Fuschetto said.

Witherspoon requested all board discussions on the issue happen in a public meeting rather than executive session.

Fuschetto declined to comment further about the reasons for putting Witherspoon on administrative leave, saying it was a personnel matter.

Witherspoon was told Tuesday his contract would not be renewed.

“It floored me,” he said of the news.

The only reason he was given was that “the school is going in the wrong direction,” Witherspoon said in an interview Friday.

But one year is hardly enough time to make a positive change at the school, he said.

“I don’t think you can really turn around a school like Ignacio unless you have at least two years,” the now former principal said. “Maybe I was the one principal that stood up to Rocco.”

The high schoolers’ language arts and math scores on tri-annual standardized testing has improved this year, Witherspoon said. The number of students with D’s and F’s also has dropped by more than one-third since he started a mandatory after-school tutoring session for those students, according to a February article in The Durango Herald.

Principals are evaluated based on a variety of factors, including their supervision of instruction and curriculum, communication skills and management of students, Fuschetto said. Student test scores are not currently used as an evaluation tool. The school board met with Witherspoon earlier this year to review his annual evaluation.

The 2011-12 school year was Witherspoon’s first at Ignacio High School. Melanie Taylor, the high school’s assistant principal, will step up to the principal position for the remainder of the school year.

Witherspoon’s forced departure from Ignacio High School comes on the heels of news about two other local principals leaving their posts.

This week, Durango High School principal Diane Lashinsky announced her resignation from the district, effective in June. Last month, Bayfield Middle School principal Mike Lister was placed on leave after he was arrested on suspicion of false imprisonment and menacing.

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