Turnover nothing new at Whittell High School

Richard Brownfield is dismayed to see a lack of consistency for Whittell High School's principal position.

Brownfield - who held the post for a 16-year stretch through 1991 along with a one-year stint in 2000 - and others cited numerous reasons for the instability.

Last week Janie Gray announced her resignation to spend more time with family. Now a different principal will head the school for the sixth time in a decade. Gray will leave at the end of the school year.

"It's sad to see the revolving door," Brownfield said from his home in Carson Valley. "I had a good time ... and if I hadn't promised my wife that I'd retire at the end of the year I'd probably stayed a couple more years."

When Brownfield retired in 1991 after 16 years, a trend of instability began, albeit slowly. Dave Sheets took the reigns for five years followed by Larry Snyder for two and Howard Bennett for one.

Brownfield then returned in 2000 to give the school district time to find an ideal candidate. Mario Gatto was hired. He pledged three to five years to the school but left for a job in Alaska after two.

Then came Gray, a disciplinarian from Texas who focused on the school's academic achievement and often sat in classes to evaluate lessons. Whittell is one of four Nevada schools given "exemplary" status based on test scores related to No Child Left Behind.

Graduations rates are high as well as the percentage of students who attend college.

Jenna Hayes had three principals during her years at Whittell. Hayes is attending University of Nevada, Reno after graduating from Whittell in 2004.

She said the next principal should bring a "student-centered attitude."

"The goal of a high school education is not to produce high scores on standardize tests, rather to produce a well-rounded person who is capable of becoming a productive citizen," Hayes stated via e-mail. "The new principal also needs to be willing to work to improve relationships between students, staff and the community."

Since 2001, the school received front-page attention from allegations that secretaries altered student grades to seniors committing a hazing act on an underclassman by locking him in a trunk and allegations a track coach improperly placed team contributions into a private account.

Gray's reign was blemished by an unfounded teacher sick-out, the controversial firing of a counselor, an allegation she tampered with student records and the contentious suspension of two seniors for possessing prescription ibuprofen at last year's prom.

The lack of affordable housing on the Nevada side of the lake makes living in the area difficult, if not improbable, said Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent of human services.

The pressure of commuting from Carson Valley to the lake is tenuous, especially on a principal, said Cindy Trigg. Trigg, a trustee on the district's school board, spoke from the stance of a community member.

"They just need to be here for so many things," Trigg said. "I think it puts a very hard strain and it is a hardship."

Brownfield said he was successful as a principal because he attended extracurricular activities, from following the debate team to attending away sporting events.

"I just think students and parents appreciate a principal demonstrating enough interest to follow them to the degree he or she can," Brownfield said.


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