Passed over for an administration job, a science teacher at the West Tisbury School whose students scored highest in this year’s state MCAS exams, has angrily and publicly appealed for an explanation, saying without one he would be forced to leave the Vineyard school system.
An impassioned Karl Nelson aired his grievance at a meeting of the up-Island school committee on Monday, arguing that he had been unfairly denied the job of interim assistant principal at the West Tisbury School this summer. An out-of-state candidate was selected.
“I love teaching, I love the kids I have this year. The MCAS isn’t the end-all, it’s one piece of hard data,” Mr. Nelson said. “But as I told [school superintendent James H. Weiss] and I’m telling [the committee] now, I have a future as an administrator. If it’s not going to be here, so be it.
“I don’t want to leave the Island. But if I leave the Island, I leave the Island and that might be within the year or two. I need to know and be able to respond to why I wasn’t hired.”
The search for a new interim assistant principal began in June under the direction of interim principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt. Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt stepped in for retiring interim principal Bob Lane, who was named interim principal after principal Michael Halt was deployed to Afghanistan for a second tour as a colonel in the Marines Corps.
The school advertised the position on the Vineyard, Cape Cod and through the internal school listing; Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt then selected a pool of people she considered most interesting to interview and who met qualifications. She then solicited volunteers for a search committee, which was composed of a classroom teacher, an assistant teacher, a special education teacher, a guidance counselor and a parent.
“I wanted it to be a very open process with the school. I sent an e-mail to the entire staff asking who would like to be on it,” Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt said in a phone conversation with the Gazette after the meeting. “It was an excellent representation of the school and a great cross section.”
The committee interviewed the five candidates Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt selected from the general applicant pool; two were from off-Island and three were from the Vineyard, including Mr. Nelson. The committee then gave feedback for each of the candidates and submitted a recommendation to Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt; ultimately, it was her decision to make a final recommendation to Mr. Weiss.
Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt recommended Sean Mulvey for the position, and after meeting with Mr. Mulvey and checking his references, Mr. Weiss agreed with the recommendation and Mr. Mulvey was hired.
Mr. Nelson was told he was not hired because he lacked experience, something in two letters to the school committee he said he believed to be the contrary. In an Aug. 10 letter, he asked the committee to help him understand why he continues “to be rejected on the basis of some subjectivity.”
In a Sept. 16 follow-up letter to the committee, he referenced 21 years of teaching experience (19 spent at the West Tisbury School), stepping in for Mr. Halt on 20 occasions over the past three years, his MCAS achievements and certification as a principal/assistant principal in Massachusetts.
“The other nominee has been working in Colorado, is much younger, has fewer years of service, fewer academic credentials, far less academic versatility and no administration certifications of any kind in Colorado or Massachusetts,” Mr. Nelson wrote in the letter. “I cannot comprehend why, based on a brief phone interview and telephone conversation, an uncertified candidate with fewer qualifications, about whom we know little, was considered to be a superior candidate.”
After pressuring Mr. Weiss and Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt for a more precise answer as to why he wasn’t hired, Mr. Nelson came before the school committee to seek their assistance in further investigating the matter. Although the school committee does not deal with personnel issues normally, they made the exception for Mr. Nelson.
“I believe the process was tainted in some way. I understand that whether I’m liked or disliked by the administration, it doesn’t matter to me,” Mr. Nelson said at the meeting. “As good overseers it is [the committee’s] responsibility to look into the situation. Hiring a principal or even a teacher is a very serious issue.”
Four days after Mr. Nelson had the interview, Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt told him he did not get the job. In that conversation, Mr. Nelson said she told him the committee’s decision was not unanimous, something Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt said would have been inappropriate to say at the time.
“I have to question the veracity of your comments with regard that the committee gave you a recommendation, I question that and I have to question it,” Mr. Nelson said to Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt. “I would like that to be looked into. That could be where the foul lies. I would like you to call, find out from the committee members if that was the case.” A motion was made by committee member Dan Cabot to accept Mr. Nelson’s request, but was not approved.
“Have you asked any of them?” Mrs. Lowell-Bettencourt asked Mr. Nelson, to which Mr. Nelson said he had not. “If you don’t feel I can be truthful or there are not enough checks and balances [you should ask them],” she added.
“I’m not naive that any changes would be made at this point, I don’t need healing,” Mr. Nelson said. “There’s a point in everyone’s life where they’ve been in a position for a while and they realize they have other strengthsI see myself as having other aspirations, and at this point I’m going to search out for those aspirations to be met in some way or form.”