Marysville School Board votes to replace Totem Middle School's principal, keep its staff for federal grants

MARYSVILLE — The Marysville School District Board of Directors voted to replace Totem Middle School's principal, but keep its staff, to qualify for federal grant money aimed at turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools.

The Board voted March 8 to adopt the "transformation" model of school improvement for Totem, under which the existing staff will be retained but held to more specific standards, and current Totem Principal Judy Albertson will be replaced, although MSD Assistant Superintendent Gail Miller emphasized that Anderson would remain in the district and part of efforts to increase learning at Totem.

Miller estimated that Totem and Tulalip Elementary, which the Board voted March 1 to adopt the transformation model, could be eligible for $1.5 million between them from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, through the grants process of the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

After meeting with Totem staff, Miller reported that they agreed with the adoption of the transformation model and were pleased to be held to a more exacting standard of accountability, since they saw it as giving them more measurable criteria for success.

Miller assured the audience of Totem staff, parents and surrounding community members alike that Albertson, an 11-year veteran of Totem and the Marysville Junior High School that occupied the same campus before it, "isn't going anywhere." Still, the majority of the meeting's speakers from the public took time to praise Albertson for her role at Totem.

"The last three letters of 'principal' are 'pal,' and that's what she is," said Dean Ledford, a Tulalip Tribal member and Marysville School District grandparent.

"Our discipline, our grades, they've all gone up under Judy," said Cindy Vetter, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Totem. "She's always had our kids and our staff at heart."

"Neither Judy Albertson nor her staff at Totem are failing," Totem parent Heather Thweatt said. "They're committed to the success of our students and have improved their learning atmosphere. As parents, we need to take responsibility as well, and if we don't send that message, then nothing will change."

Board Director Michael Kundu had an excused absence, but the rest of the Board was present and voted unanimously in favor of transformation for Totem, albeit not before Board Director Darci Becker shared her conflicted feelings about their decision. Becker asked if any school districts had turned down the opportunity to apply for these grant monies, and while neither Miller nor MSD Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland were aware of any districts that had done so, Miller pointed out that the state would still count Totem and Tulalip in its list of lowest-performing schools, whether it applied for the grants or not.

"I want these schools to have this money, but they don't deserve to be labeled failures, especially under Judy's leadership," Becker said. "I don't want them to feel like they put all their work in for nothing."

Miller noted that Totem has already instituted several steps toward improving student learning that are mandated by the transformation model, such as the "Safe and Civil Schools" positive behavior system, but added that extra federal money could expand the scope of those programs. She explained that Totem will be adding 30 minutes to the start of its school day, and she pointed out that federal grants could fund summer schools that the district current cannot afford.

According to Miller, the district will be notified by March 26 if it's been approved for the grants, after which it can begin accessing those grants as early as April.

The transformation model's measures will be implemented for the 2010-2011 school year. Albertson will remain as Totem's principal through the end of the current school year.

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