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Capital’s principal speaks out after students stage sit-in to protest policy on interim administrators

2013-03-27T00:00:00Z 2013-04-09T22:27:04Z Capital’s principal speaks out after students stage sit-in to protest policy on interim administratorsBy EDDIE GREGG Independent Record Helena Independent Record
March 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

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 eddie.gregg@helenair.com. Follow Eddie Gregg on Twitter: @IR_EddieGregg.

Reporter Eddie Gregg: 447-4081 or eddie.gregg@helenair.com. Follow Eddie Gregg on Twitter: @IR_EddieGregg.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(19) Comments

  1. bornNraised
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    bornNraised - April 02, 2013 10:24 am
    It is basically a vice principal's job to take over on an interim basis if the principal resigns/quits. Chancy didn't really have a "choice", or at best, he had a very unfair "choice". Kids should show up at the school board meeting and request that the process begin anew. The school board does not have to accept Zanto, it's as simple as that, start the process over.
  2. CarrollQueer
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    CarrollQueer - March 31, 2013 1:49 pm
    If only Mr. Chancy had "closed the debate of his own accord before it started".
    By remaining silent until March 27 he allowed this to this to become an issue, become disruptive and ultimately will make the job of the incoming principal more difficult. His actions showed neither "character" nor what was best for Capital HS.
    And the fact that the teachers at Capital HS solicited petitions and incited students to protest is shameful.
  3. 5thgen
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    5thgen - March 28, 2013 9:28 pm
    I have known Walt Chancy for years, he is a great person, do I personally think the rule that that forbids the interim Principal from applying for the job makes good policy, no. But the real question is the fact, he was asked to be the interim Principal under the full understanding that if he took the interim job he wouldn't be able to apply for the full time job. Since he understood this and agreed to take the job, the issue for this hiring process should be closed. If enough people don't like the policy then demand he school board change the policy, but to now in the middle of the process just allow Mr Chancy to throw his hat into the ring, just wouldn't be right. I personally think he should have turned down the interim job and went for it, however he choose not too and that was his decision.
  4. Carrollman93
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    Carrollman93 - March 28, 2013 1:36 pm
    I agree. As a member of the CHS Class of 2012, i can tell you that with Hudnutt, there was no agreement or respect between students and the principal. And when the principal tried to force respect, it made us disrespect her even more. I admire these students. Chancy has worked at CHS for 36 years. Who would know the ins and outs of the school, have the best professional relationship with the student body, and move the school forward than him?
  5. Carrollman93
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    Carrollman93 - March 28, 2013 1:32 pm
    First and foremost you need to see this from the students point of view. I was a member of the Capital graduating class of 2012. We were sophmores when Chancy was passed up in favor of Hudnutt. We saw first hand how the atmosphere of the school changed from a good place to be to an overly strict and controlling environment that discouraged independent thought in class and made teachers uncomfortable. We watched as hudnutt got rid of our bear out of the cave tradition, we watched many of the teachers that the students got along with and learned from leave while the teachers nearly everyone struggled with stayed. We all voiced concern about why someone who had been at the school for Decades was passed up by someone from out of state with no knowledge of the trust the students had with the administration. We all hated some of the stricter rules and we did everything we could to undermine them or render them ineffective. All trust was lost between students and admin, the admin restricted the athletic hallways and who could be in them. if you got out 6th period (after about 2:25ish)and were in a sport, if the athletic trainer wasnt there, you had to LEAVE the school and come back at 3 ish to get ready for practice. If you cant trust students in an isolated hallway, how can we be responsible? Many of us refused to go to any of the meetings to meet the superintendent candidates because we knew they would say anything to us but never follow up. Anyone can talk, but words mean nothing without action. While i had loads of school spirit, I HATED being a student at capital high from my sophmore year to my senior year. These students are trying to prevent another Hudnutt disaster. And yes, Chancy is too classy to protest anything. He does only what is best for the school. He knew the details, but he most likely took the interim spot because it was what was best for CHS. The next principal is most likely going to have similar issues to Hudnutt with a student body that disapproves of the principal, and subsequently will try everything they can to make then next principals life that much harder
  6. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - March 28, 2013 11:25 am
    I disagree that the current policy maintains hiring integrity among other reasons that were stated before. Mr. Meyer was the assistant superintendant for years. He was put in as interim superintendant and also allowed to apply for the position permanently. It did not stop other candidates from applying, nor was hiring integrity compromised as Mr. Kultigen was hired, not Mr. Meyer. There may be the "perception" an internal candidate has a better chance, but if the actual hiring procedures are followed, the one best qualifed gets the job, that could be the interim person but it could also be someone from the outside.
  7. Casual Commentor
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    Casual Commentor - March 27, 2013 9:21 pm
    So this decision by the Superintendent is similar to the decision regarding Central School. It's about the process--the public process of listening and taking public input prior to making a decision. It's not as much about the decision as it is about the process. Yes, perhaps Mr. Chancy knew the ground rules, and perhaps he didn't--but why would you not allow the process to occur. Why wouldn't you let the process take it's natural course and select the best candidate possible. By not allowing him to be considered, you have possibly eliminated the best candidiate---and that is never good for any organization.
  8. PatrickBateman
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    PatrickBateman - March 27, 2013 7:23 pm
    And my reading comprehension is defective....the article clearly says he was aware of it when he took the position......so the chapter should be closed. He closed the debate of his own accord before it started.

    Pity the person who gets the job now though.
  9. fishound
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    fishound - March 27, 2013 4:43 pm
    Its hard to believe you can make your decision to not give Walt a chance at the job. Putting him in a the position you did, sure doesn't show much respect to someone that has given so much to this school system. With the number of students and teachers supporting him, based on there experience with Walt, you would think as a new superintendent to the school district these people's opinion would have more meaning. What a sorry reflection of leadership from the superintendent.
  10. HLNMT
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    HLNMT - March 27, 2013 2:54 pm
    As Chancy said he took the temporary position of principal knowing he would not be able to apply for the job. If Chancy had wanted the job he could have decided against being interim principal and another assistant principal could have filled the temporary position. Last time the job was available Chancy was not chosen. So maybe Chancy didn't want to be put in that position again and by taking the temporary position, under the verbally approved policy, it allowed Chancy to return to his tenured job with no one wondering why he wasn't chosen as the best candidate. Change is good and though scary to some of the teachers it is what we all encounter in life and it is what the teachers are preparing students for each year. I think we let the process play out and hope we get a great new principle who works well with students, teachers, and parents allowing Chancy to continue to have the positive relationship he has with the students, teachers and parents as an assistant principle.
  11. PatrickBateman
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    PatrickBateman - March 27, 2013 2:26 pm
    "When Mr. Chancy accepted the principal position on an interim basis he knew full well and agreed that he would not be considered for the permanent job."

    I guess that's the question....the timeline in the article is indicates he took the position 2/12 and the policy memo was issued 2/20. Even if the policy has merit (which is debateable but an entirely different discussion), applying such a policy retroactively is sketchy absent some information that Mr. Chancy was made aware of the circumstances of his appointment on an interim basis.

    At this point, the superintendent is in a lose/lose scenario...don't hire him and he faces the ongoing wrath of criticism which will grow when the chosen candidate fails (and if you're a candidate, are you looking to take a position that the community thinks someone else should occupy); or hire him and look like he was neutered by public opinion or does not have the confidence of the board. Unsteady waters ahead.
  12. CarrollQueer
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    CarrollQueer - March 27, 2013 1:27 pm
    When Mr. Chancy accepted the principal position on an interim basis he knew full well and agreed that he would not be considered for the permanent job.
    He had the opportunity to let the community know this 2 weeks ago when the issue first surfaced. Yet he remained silent and chose not to. Classy.
  13. montanamom
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    montanamom - March 27, 2013 1:24 pm
    Mr. Chancy has character, integrity, and charisma. He is honest, hard working, and trust worthy. With his years of leadership at Capital High, teaching, coaching, mentoring...he is one class act. I hope Mr. Kultgen and the school board are able to look at all his amazing qualities and rescind the rule to disallowing Mr. Chancy to apply for the principal position. Helena School District # 1 is blessed to have Walt Chancy as an employee.
  14. alwaysright
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    alwaysright - March 27, 2013 11:57 am
    An interim is selected based on that individual's high capacity and/or proven capabilities to perform in the position for an undetermined amount of time while the process of permanent replacement is finalized. The notion that the interim is somehow preferred, or biased, is completely unfounded if the hiring process is fully transparent in the first place. An interim may very well, as evidenced in the selection as interim, be the best candidate and appropriate selection for school leadership succession. The interim policy in place by the superintendent is utter hokum.
  15. RamblingSyd
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    RamblingSyd - March 27, 2013 10:36 am
    Kultgen should change the policy or else he should QUIT. Everyone wants Chancy to get the job. The superintendent is blocking it - he needs to go!
  16. HelenaNative82
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    HelenaNative82 - March 27, 2013 10:35 am
    I know Walt a little bit, he is a very nice guy. I do feel, however, that he knew the implications of the choice he made, he now needs to show strong charactor and live up to his part of the agreement. Walt could have talked to his many supporters days ago, told them that he understood the agreement and made a choice, if they respect him, they should respect the choice he made.

    It is very important that our educators serve as role models for our students. Students must learn that when we make choices, and enter into agreements, we should have the charactor to honor such agreements.

    I also think some of the words used, such as 'barred' from taking the job misrepresent the actual process that took place. "Interim principle chose not to seek the position" would be more accurate.
  17. VoiceOfReason
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    VoiceOfReason - March 27, 2013 9:57 am
    I see serious problems with this superintendent and this policy. Number 1, is the superintendent allowed to make policy or should it have to be approved by our school board? Number 2, can he enforce an ex post facto policy? Policy is called ex post facto if the policy attempts to extend backwards in time and affects actions made before the date of the policy’s creation. This assumes the dates in this article are correct of Chancy taking the position on the 12th and Kultgen putting a policy in place on the 20th. “Kultgen said there could be legal ramifications to changing the interview process” I think he should be worried about the legal ramifications of his policy implementation procedure.
  18. Sunburst
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    Sunburst - March 27, 2013 7:45 am

    Walt Chancy is a very classy guy.

    There was a need for a temporary principal and he stepped forward and filled the position. Rising to an occasion is hardly a reason for denying someone the ability to apply.

    The person who orchestrated this silly policy probably has also designed a form for its implementation. Take a stand School Board and resend this goofiness. Should the most qualified person who to apply let him.

    Hats off to the Capital High students. Now, go contact school board members.
  19. Sunburst
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    Sunburst - March 27, 2013 2:15 am
    Chancy is a very classy man.

    There was a time of need and he rose to fill the need. Hardly a reason to disqualify a person.

    I would encourage the same students to contact school board members and have them drop this ridiculous policy. Whoever came up with this nonsense probably is a first class bureaucrat who has designed a form to support his position.

    Hats off to the student protest.

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