The Bend-La Pine School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept Superintendent Ron Wilkinson's recommendation that former Bear Creek Elementary Principal Matt Montoya's contract be terminated.
Montoya had been placed on administrative leave June 24 pending an investigation into his job performance, focusing on his failure to complete “mini-observations” of his staff. On July 9, Montoya, 34, filed a discrimination complaint against the district, citing race and age discrimination. The board suspended its evaluation of Montoya's personnel status until it investigated the discrimination claim, which on Aug. 22 the board ruled was without merit.
“I support this decision. I believe as a board it is our job to uphold rigorous education standards,” said board chairwoman Cheri Helt. “Having reviewed the personnel file, I believe that we are doing the right thing, and it is unfortunate we cannot all share the same knowledge, but I support this decision.”
Montoya's personnel file is protected by privacy statutes. Board members throughout the meeting referenced the file's contents, expressing their frustration that its contents could not be made public.
“I was doing a little research and reading today, and I was on the National Education Association website looking for information on principals, and one thing I found was that it is the principal's job to shape the environment for teaching and learning,” said board member Mike Jensen. “The most effective principals create vibrant learning communities where faculty and staff collaborate to help every student fulfill his or her potential. I think here we have an issue of misrepresentation of performance which is cause of breach between Mr. Montoya and his supervisor and the district.
“Surveys we have seen support it, and the fact that we have no output of support from his staff also supports it. Mr. Montoya stated that mini-observations were only part of his job, but I see it as being a prime directive.”
In a public input section following the board's vote, Jennifer Montoya, Matt Montoya's wife and a teacher at Elk Meadow Elementary, said teachers were afraid to speak out in support of her husband for fear of retaliation by the district.
“I'm sad tonight that it was spoken by one of the board members that teachers have not been outspoken and shared their concern in this process and that is one of the deciding factors for you,” Jennifer Montoya said. “I want to share that if teachers were not fearful, they would be standing right here, and as a teacher I can share that openly and honestly.”
She went on to read a letter she said she received from an unnamed Bear Creek teacher. The letter expressed support for Montoya, noting he is “a teacher's principal” and that he helped the author “shape me into the teacher I want to be.”
Nine others at the meeting expressed their support for Montoya, noting his rapport with students and the fact that the school received a rating of “outstanding” on its Oregon Department of Education Report Card under Montoya. Melisa Sween commented upon Montoya's decision to move his office to a smaller space in the front of the school following the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Montoya also spoke in the meeting, thanking the board for the time it has dedicated to this issue and calling the decision “a mockery of our board policy and my due process rights.” He went on to defend his record and express his commitment to fighting the board's decision.
“We spoke about the passion that you guys have noticed in me, and what was lacking was, I guess, was student performance, but if I think back to VAM (Valued-Added Model) data from last year, Bear Creek was at the very top,” he said. “I would suspect that we are right there again this school year, so when you see that data, think of the hard-working kids and teachers I observed and monitored the last three years.”
VAM offers a way to compare student achievement growth to similar students in comparable schools.
“I'm wondering what kind of role model would I be if I didn't stand up and fight this,” Montoya added.
During board comments, board member Nori Juba reiterated board members' frustration about their inability to discuss some of the material on which they based their decision.
“This is a good example of why it's hard to make personnel decisions,” Juba said. “We are not allowed to publicly discuss personnel files, and then there's the overwhelming administrative task we face.”