Southeast Raleigh High principal change questioned

khui@newsobserver.comJune 5, 2014 

— Southeast Raleigh High School is getting its fourth principal since 2011 – a leadership change that some parents, students and recent graduates say was made abruptly and without community input.

The Wake County school system announced Thursday that David Schwenker would become principal of the Wake N.C. State STEM Early College High School. The district had announced Tuesday that Schwenker was being replaced at Southeast Raleigh High by Candis Jones, an assistant principal at Wake Forest High School since 2012.

The change, coming four days after graduation, had shocked Schwenker’s supporters, who said he had helped turn the school around during the past two years.

“I am utterly appalled at the disregard, perhaps even disdain, you have shown for the community, the parents, the staff, and even the principal at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School,” Deb Faulkner, a parent wrote in an open letter to the school district. “The secretive way you chose to remove an outstanding administrator, with no explanation, and no discussion, leads one to believe there is a personal agenda at play.”

In an interview Thursday, Schwenker said he hadn’t requested the transfer but was looking forward to the challenge of leading an early college. In an early college, students can graduate in five years with both a high school diploma and two years of college credit.

Schwenker’s move was among this week’s transfers of seven principals. He said his move fits into decisions by Superintendent Jim Merrill, who started in August, on how best to assign principals in North Carolina’s largest school district.

“It was known that changes were coming,” Schwenker said. “I implicitly trust Dr. Merrill.”

When rumors circulated about the transfer, a group of parents and students tried to speak at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Hiren Giwahla, 18, who graduated from Southeast Raleigh last week, was among those who were told they couldn’t discuss the move because it was a personnel matter.

Giwahla said Schwenker was a strong disciplinarian, yet approachable. He noted that the school received a Magnet School of Excellence award this year from Magnet Schools of America, a trade organization.

“Everything he was doing, the whole community was buying into,” Giwahla said. “I personally think they should bring Mr. Schwenker back. But what’s most appalling is the way they handled it without public input.”

Fueling some of the speculation was the way Schwenker’s status on Tuesday was listed as to be determined. School officials said they were unable to announce his new position until all the details had been completed Thursday.

Desmond Woods, 17, a rising senior at Southeast Raleigh High, said earlier notice about the new job would have cut down on reports that Schwenker had been fired.

Schwenker wrote a letter Thursday to Southeast Raleigh High families announcing his new job and praising Jones, his successor.

“The parents care about what’s happening here,” Schwenker said. “That shows it’s a great school. I wish we had been able to tell them something about it sooner. But they’ll be in great hands.”

Jones said Thursday she’s working on a transition plan. She enters a school which has seen significant turnover at the top.

John Wall was named principal in 2011 after Beulah Wright retired. Schwenker was named principal in September 2012 after Wall was lured away by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

School board member Keith Sutton, whose district includes Southeast Raleigh High, said the system made changes this week to make best use of available talent.

“Administrative transfers are made to achieve the best possible leadership fit at the affected schools,” he said. “While these moves may sometimes be unpopular, we are confident that they serve the best long-term interest of the school and the district.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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