Laurel Highlands hires acting elementary school principal
After some debate and accusations of nepotism, the Laurel Highlands School District hired an acting elementary school principal.
A special meeting was held on Thursday to temporarily fill the position of a principal at Hatfield Elementary School. School principal Ed Zelich accepted a job as an acting superintendant with another school district and will leave Laurel Highlands at the end of the month.
After an executive session, the board nominated Heidi Mears to fill the position on a temporary basis.
The motion was seconded by board member Jamie D'Andrea, who then questioned schools Superintendent Jesse Wallace, asking if Mears was his recommendation to the board.
Wallace said he recommended another candidate, but the board went with Mears.
D'Andrea's second question concerned Mears' being related to a board member.
Board President James Tobal said Mears is his wife's second cousin. A board member is not allowed to vote on a relative up to a first cousin. Tobal was permitted to vote on Mears' appointment.
The motion to hire Mears passed 5-2 with D'Andrea and board member Beverly Beal first passing on the vote, then voting against the motion. Board member Tom Vernon was absent from the meeting, and board member Norma Santore voted via speaker phone.
Mears, who's a teacher at Laurel Highlands Middle School, will be paid her current salary with no increase.
Wallace said he'll present a list of candidates for the board to interview in either March or April for a full-time elementary school principal position. The board spent two days interviewing 10 candidates for the position.
After Thursday's meeting, D'Andrea said, the 10 candidates were given scores, and Mears was not a candidate with a top score.
“I don't understand why our time, energy and efforts were put into this if the process is not being followed,” said D'Andrea. She added that she has had firsthand issues with nepotism in the school district in the past and is disappointed that nothing has changed.
Tobal said there were many qualified candidates for the position, but Mears came highly qualified and had a high score in the interview process.
“She was the most seasoned and had the most experience,” Tobal said of Mears' 20-plus years in the school district and her experience as an assistant principal.
Along with the principal position, the board voted unanimously to hire Lara Dowling as the head varsity girls soccer coach and appointed Shaeligh DeBerry as the assistant coach. Both positions are for one year.
Mark Hofmann is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-626-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.