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School board readies to meet after upheaval

The Hood River County School Board meets Wednesday for the first time since September’s administrative upheaval.

The meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. at Hood River Middle School.

Superintendent Jerry Sessions resigned Sept. 25, two days after Hood River Valley High School principal Ben Kolb abruptly quit to take a job in California.

Sessions, whose resignation takes effect at the end of the 2002-03 school year, had made a $49,000 payment to former HRVHS athletic director Glenn Elliott that Sessions did not inform the school board about and initially denied having made. Elliott called it severence pay, though he immediately went to a new job at Newberg High School, and Sessions has called it payment for services.

Sessions apologized to the board Sept. 25 and offered his resignation, effective June 30, 2003, which the board accepted by a 6-1 vote.

Board chairwoman Jan Veldhuisen Virk said the board plans to prepare a statement “as a response to what we heard, and the feedback” about retaining Sessions for the rest of the school year. On Wednesday, the board will discuss the issue in closed executive session.

“We felt it was in the district’s best interest to keep Jerry for the year, Veldhuisen Virk said Thursday. “We felt that there had been disruption already with Ben Kolb leaving, and we felt we had a great district office staff and that this year will be a good year, with Jerry as superintendent.

“We felt that (hiring) an interim superintendent was not necessarily in the interest of the district,” she added.

“Feedback has been mixed,” in conversations with district patrons on the decision to keep Sessions aboard, Veldhuisen Virk said. (Regarding plans for hiring a new superintendent, on Wednesday the board will schedule a work session or regular agenda item for its Oct. 23 meeting to take up the issue.)

On Wednesday the board will also take up the question of Ben Kolb.

“We will be discussing Ben Kolb and what we will pursue with the way he left so quickly,” Veldhuisen Virk said. “I think the board will discuss possibilities, about just what we can do.” The district could seek to revoke Kolb’s Oregon administrative license, though it would not directly affect his California employment, Veldhuisen Virk said.

Last week Sessions wrote Kolb and asked for a letter of apology, she said. In the letter, Sessions informed Kolb that the board and community were disappointed in the abruptness of his departure. (Kolb informed the school board on Sept. 21 of his resignation, and told his staff on Sept. 23 — his last day at school.)

Veldhuisen Virk said seeking revocation of Kolb’s Oregon license “would make a statement to the community and the rest of the district that we were not at all pleased with the way he left. I think it’s important to make a statement.

“There was the suggestion he should come up and meet with students and staff one more time, or at the very least send a letter that could go out to the community,” Veldhuisen Virk said. “If not an apology, just some kind of a communication.”

Wednesday’s board agenda will include a report by high school co-principals Steve Fisk and Martha Capovilla, who agreed to jointly direct the school for the rest of 2002-03 or until a permanent principal is hired.

Brent Emmons, a special education teacher, has been appointed Dean of Students, giving the HRVHS adminstration a third member.

“During this time of transition we will continue our tradition of a safe, instructionally sound environment by working closely with students, staff and parents,” Capovilla and Fisk said in a letter to parents included in the school’s October newsletter.

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Wednesday’s agenda will also include the first reading of a revised policy on threats of violence by students, expanding the language to state that bus drivers shall be “a person of authority” while students are being transported.

The board will also hear reports on the Oregon School Boards Association regional fall meeting, a recent visit by board members to Eugene Public Schools, and a preview of the National Middle School Association conference, Nov. 1-2 in Portland.

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