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New Woodland Hills school chief praised, criticized

| Friday, June 27, 2008

Those who have worked with him say the new Woodland Hills School District superintendent is both a tireless worker and an administrator who was disliked by the teachers at his last school district.

"You will never outwork that young man," said Willie Kennedy, president of the Richmond Heights School Board near Cleveland, where 68-year-old Walter Calinger has been superintendent for three years. "He has a burning passion to help kids succeed."

Though Kennedy gives Calinger high marks, the Richmond Heights Education Association did not have a good relationship with the superintendent before and during a contentious teachers' strike in 2007.

According to published reports, the association blamed Calinger for decreasing employee morale, eliminating teaching positions and increasing teachers' workload.

Prior to the strike, the association had overwhelmingly voted in favor of a no-confidence resolution against Calinger.

Richmond Heights Education Association officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

"A strike is difficult," Calinger said in a telephone interview when he was hired at Woodland Hills. "No one ever wins. I kept the schools open, and learning went on. The board made decisions, and I implemented them."

Calinger leaves Richmond Heights locked in a dispute with the school board over his contract. He contends that a rollover provision in the contract extends it at least through 2009.

Kennedy said the board voted not to renew Calinger's contract before the March 1 deadline established by state law. Calinger will be paid through the end of July, Kennedy said. His salary and benefit package at Richmond Heights cost the district about $130,000.

"It's nothing personal, it's business," Kennedy said.

After a search conducted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the Woodland Hills School Board on Wednesday in a 6-1 vote hired Calinger for three years. His salary was set at $135,000 and he starts on Tuesday.

Calinger, who replaces Roslynne Wilson, faces multiple challenges in Woodland Hills including improving test scores, curbing student-on-student violence and beefing up the administration. The district needs a high school principal and assistant superintendent.

Woodland Hills School Board President Marilyn Messina is eager for Calinger to come on board.

But board member Colleen Filiak, the only board member to vote against Calinger's hiring, said she couldn't support Calinger because of the differences between Richmond Heights and Woodland Hills school districts.

"I don't think he's the right choice for the district at this time," said Filiak, citing the differences in budgets and enrollment -- $14 million and 1,200 students in Richmond Heights and $85 million and 4,800 students in Woodland Hills.

Board member William Driscoll was out of town, and Cynthia Lowery had an emergency, district officials said.

Kennedy believes Calinger is up to the challenge.

"He brought test scores up and reduced the number of fights and suspensions (at Richmond Heights)," he said.

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