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Principal job wide open despite vow

Despite promising that former Springstead High School principal Susan Duval would be appointed principal of Hernando's fourth middle school if her performance improved, Superintendent John Sanders has decided to interview other applicants for the job without formally reviewing Duval's performance.

Duval has not received a performance review since June, a month after she was demoted to the second-ranked assistant principal at Springstead's freshman campus. This year's evaluation, unless it is accelerated at the last minute, will not be completed in time to play a role in deciding who will become the middle school principal.

On Tuesday, Sanders denied making the promise. When read a transcript of a May 1996 meeting during which he made the pledge, Sanders said he had decided an open application process would be best.

"I think that is what would be most effective for finding the best candidate," he said.

Seven assistant principals from the district, including Duval, have applied for the job and are slated to be interviewed Thursday. Duval said she doesn't know where she stands.

"I'm just waiting to hear, just like everyone else," she said. "I've put my name in, and I do think a commitment was made to me. I'm not saying I think I'll get it, but I think I've done what was asked of me."

Duval, who has retained her $61,482 principal's salary, declined further comment, saying she did not want to give the appearance that she is lobbying for the job.

At least one School Board member, Jim Malcolm, says as far as he is concerned, the job is Duval's.

"If she hasn't been evaluated, how can (Sanders) deny her the job?" Malcolm said. "I don't recall if Dr. Sanders ever came out and said it, but the implication was quite clear: Susan Duval was to be next in line for a principal's job."

At a May 9, 1996, workshop, Sanders formally recommended Duval be demoted.

"I will look to Susan Duval to be the principal of the middle school that we are implementing in '97," Sanders told board members, some of whom were opposed to the demotion. "If, in fact, the things I am expecting of her come true I will not even ask for an interview committee. I will just make the appointment."

Sanders did not give specific reasons for Duval's demotion, but speculation ran rampant that she didn't get along with Assistant Superintendent Don Brown, who oversees secondary schools. The demotion divided the board and prompted a public outcry from Duval's supporters.

After weeks of angry letters, phone calls and media scrutiny, Sanders said in May that he had never been the target of such "character assassination."

In her 1995-96 performance review, Sanders gave Duval passing marks in 18 of 20 areas on the standardized review form. The two substandard areas were delegating authority and working effectively with the community.

Sanders specifically wrote that Duval should:

"Establish an atmosphere of openness for staff, parents and community groups."

"Return phone calls within 24 hours."

"Respond to requests in a timely manner."

The review didn't say what requests or phone calls were ignored.

Sanders said his decision to open the application process is not a reflection of his opinion of Duval's performance this year.

"It would not be appropriate for me to comment on an employee's performance," he said. "Mrs. Duval's performance will be considered along with all the other applicants during the interview process."

He said Springstead principal Donnie Moen and Brown will be called upon for input into Duval's performance before Sanders recommends a candidate to the School Board.

But Moen said he doesn't expect to be involved.

"I'm under the direction to get my performance reviews done by April 14," he said. "Administrators' reviews usually run a bit late, so it could be the end of April. I could have it done earlier, but nobody's asked my thoughts on her at all."

The School Board is scheduled to vote on Sanders' recommendation at its April 15 meeting.

The review committee, made up of teachers, parents and administrators, will narrow the list of applicants to three. Sanders will then pick one person to recommend to the board, said Larry Spencer, the district's human resources director.

Board Chairman John Druzbick said he is confident that the review committee will be brought up to date on Duval's recent performance.

"I'm sure with her experience as a principal, she would be one of the leading candidates anyway," Druzbick said.

He stopped short of saying there was a commitment made to Duval. But Malcolm said there's little doubt in his mind.

"The message was quite clear," Malcolm said. "Unless Dr. Sanders can clearly document that he has followed through on his promise to evaluate Susan Duval, I'd say she's the one who should get the job. We're already paying her a principal's salary, and there was a commitment. It's only fair."

The applicants

The seven applicants to become principal of the district's new middle school are:

Dot Dodge, assistant principal at Suncoast Elementary School

Susan Duval, assistant principal at Springstead High School's ninth-grade campus

Bob McAlpine, assistant principal at West Hernando Middle School

Mike Robinson, assistant principal at Parrott Middle School

Dave Schoelles, assistant principal in charge of alternative education

John Shepherd, lead assistant principal at Springstead High's ninth-grade campus

Tom Varn Jr., assistant principal at Hernando High School

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