Walt Chancy, the interim principal of Capital High School, made his first public comments Tuesday night on the outcry against a policy that prevents interim school administrators from applying for their jobs permanently.
“I appreciate and am humbled by the outpouring of support from the students, staff and community,” he said in a phone interview at about 6 p.m. “I care deeply about Capital High School and it’s an honor to have the community speak out on my behalf.”
A petition signed by 103 Capital High teachers and staff members asking that Chancy be appointed to the principal position for a term of three years was submitted to the Helena School Board of Trustees, as was a similar petition signed by 607 students, or about half of the student body of Capital High.
Chancy, who has worked at Capital High for 36 years, confirmed he knew about the policy before taking the interim position, but declined to make further public comment on the matter other than to say:
“There is a process to this and while not everyone agrees with it, I trust that the process will find a principal that’s a great fit for Capital High School.”
From about 12:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., between 75 and 100 Capital High students staged a sit-in at the Helena Public Schools’ central office in protest of the policy, which was made by Kent Kultgen, the superintendent of Helena Public Schools.
The students, who said they organized the protest through word-of-mouth, texting and Facebook, gathered as a group outside the central office at the May Butler Center, located at 55 S. Rodney St., before walking in and occupying the main area connecting all the offices on the second floor of the building
Within minutes, Kultgen made his way to the middle of the group and started addressing the kids about their concerns — including the reasons for the policy, why Chancy wasn’t simply appointed as principal and whether the policy would or could be changed to allow him to apply for the job now.
Kultgen repeatedly told the students that the hiring process and policy preventing an interim school administrator from applying for his or her job permanently was known when Chancy accepting the job.
Chancy, who was an assistant principal at the time, took the interim position Feb. 12, a day after the school’s former principal, Elisabeth Hudnutt, resigned.
“You’ve got to understand that we’re following a procedure that everybody knew about to begin with,” he said.
Kultgen, who took his job as the head of Helena schools last July, has previously said the policy is something he brought with him from his position as the superintendent of Stevensville schools.
The policy was not in writing until Feb. 20, when Kultgen issued a staff memo outlining his reasons for the policy, in which he explains the need for a transparent hiring process that won’t create the appearance of an unfair advantage for the interim over other applicants for the job.
“If the interim is hired, then the hiring process loses integrity, as many will see the hiring as predetermined,” he also wrote. “If the interim is not hired, then it could affect the performance of that person when they return to their original position.”
Kultgen repeatedly told the students that he cannot decide for others whether they want to apply for a job or not.
He also explained to the students the hiring process for the Capital High principal position, which is under way:
An interviewing committee of 10 representatives — including two Capital High teachers, but no students — interviewed three candidates for the principal position Monday and Tuesday morning. The committee is set to finalize its recommendation for the job Friday, after which Kultgen will make his formal recommendation for the job to the school board.
Some students asked about the speed in which a new principal is being hired, to which Kultgen said that the process has been going on for five or six weeks.
Kultgen told the students that he won’t change the hiring process that is in motion, but he did say that in the future when hiring school administrators he will put a student on the hiring committee.
Kultgen said there could be legal ramifications to changing the interview process, since it was already under way.
“I can’t even stop this right now,” he said.
The Capital students asked if they could put together a document to give to the interviewing committee listing their concerns about the whole issue and the qualities they want to see in their next principal, which Kultgen encouraged them to do.
Emily Grinsell, Capital’s student representative on the school board, who was vocal during the sit-in, said she would try to get that document to Kultgen by the end of today.
When Kultgen asked the group of students if they had talked to Chancy, not a single student said they had spoken to their principal about the matter.
Out of about a dozen students asked by the IR, none had spoken to Chancy about whether he wants the principal job permanently.
Several students, teachers and office staff at Capital have said that Chancy is “too classy” to protest the policy and that he took the interim position at Capital because he is loyal to the school and knew that the position needed to be filled.
Assistant superintendent Greg Upham, who spent six years as the principal at Helena High and four years as an assistant principal at Capital High, told the group that in all the years he has worked in the district, he had never seen students stage a protest at the central office.
“Yes, he took this interim position, but out of respect for the students and everyone else,” said Duncan Ellis, a senior at Capital High. “We all respect Chancy completely. Sure, we don’t know these other three applicants, but we do know Chancy and we do know that that’s what we want.”
In an interview less than 30 minutes after the sit-in had simmered down, Kultgen said that it was great to see students making themselves heard.
“It’s a great part of the process and I think the kids came up with some great ideas,” he said. “It’s the epitome of where we want our kids to be … knowing they can make a difference.”
Reporter Eddie Gregg: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Eddie Gregg on Twitter: @IR_EddieGregg.