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Home  Unchartered Waters
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“They have very committed teachers; they have very committed parents; and the students that I’ve met seem just awesome,” new ATC Principal Susan Lumley says. “It’s going to be a lot of fun working with a community that is so dedicated to education.”
Wren Abbott

Unchartered Waters

Can a new principal solve one charter school’s woes?

July 13, 2011, 2:00 am

The Academy of Technology and the Classics is an academically distinguished school recently beset with problems. Its new principal, Susan Lumley, is an award-winning school administrator facing down lingering questions about her track record. Will these two be a perfect match or a total disaster?


On June 29, Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez announced that Lumley, a fellow Texan, would helm the embattled charter school. Lumley’s appointment comes during a turbulent time. Her predecessor (who held the title of director because he lacked the educational requirements to be principal) resigned in May after SFPS released a damning report on the school’s mismanagement. In June, the school’s governing board voluntarily suspended its charter, then resigned en masse.


To some, Lumley seems an unlikely choice to facilitate the “healing” Gutierrez says is necessary in the wake of upheaval at the seventh through 12th grade school. Lumley’s one-year stint, in 2004-2005, as principal at Santa Fe High School was rocky; then, after just one year as principal at El Dorado Community School in 2005-2006, she left education to become a realtor. After an unsuccessful run at a SFPS Board of Education seat in 2009, she was appointed to an administrative position in special education—despite her lack of training or certification specific to special education.


Still, Lumley’s career before New Mexico was marked by success. A publication put out by Education Northwest, an educational research group, credits Lumley with increasing student achievement at Huntsville High School in Texas, where she was principal from 2000 until 2003, when she was named principal of the year for the greater Houston area. Last week, a hefty book on elementary school administration she co-authored came out in print.


So far, though, Lumley hasn’t been able to translate her Texas successes to New Mexico. National Education Association Santa Fe Employee Rights Director Susan McGrew tells SFR that, during the 2004-2005 school year, Santa Fe High teachers formed a faculty senate to fight back against Lumley’s management style.


“When someone would question [Lumley] about something she was doing or get up and say, ‘No, I don’t think we should do it that way’—in other words, any disagreement from someone—she would write them up; she would retaliate against them,” McGrew says. “We just got sick of it, so we formed the faculty senate and put together a constitution so we would have a unified voice in dealing with her.”


Lumley says she believes the creation of the faculty senate was a reaction to an unpopular curriculum reform effort rather than to her management style. Gutierrez says the district erred in trying to implement the reforms at that time, creating a challenging environment for Lumley. 


But Santa Fe High art teacher Sally Dinwiddie, who was a representative for the teachers’ union at the time, alleges Lumley wrote up disciplinary forms against “well over half” the teachers working there.


“She really ran her teachers into the ground,” Dinwiddie says. “As soon as she became principal, she started taking on every teacher, writing up teachers right and left.”


Santa Fe High science teacher Anita Nugent says she “personally witnessed” Lumley verbally attack teachers during meetings.


“It was basically cutting down a teacher when that teacher questioned something,” Nugent says.


After math teacher Megan Seisennop lost her job, a group of teachers, parents and students protested at a May 2005 SFPS Board of Education meeting.


“We all gathered at the school board meeting and demanded [Lumley] be kicked out of Santa Fe High,” McGrew says.


Lumley says she never fired anyone, and that allegations that she wrote up over half of the teachers are “just not true.” Gutierrez says she “doesn’t recall” that Lumley wrote up that many teachers.


“I think she called to the attention of some of the teachers concerns about their instructional practices and their professional behavior,” Gutierrez says. “I don’t think she retaliated against teachers…I believe that Susan was well within her right as the school principal to address those issues with those particular teachers.”


Don McAvinchey, who was president of the Parent Teacher Association at El Dorado Community School during Lumley’s year there, says he found Lumley effective at implementing changes and adept at communicating with parents.


“I know some people on the faculty were extremely happy that she was there, and some people on the faculty weren’t so happy, so that seemed like a pretty balanced perspective,” McAvinchey says. “I haven’t seen too many principals who hit 100 percent on that kind of score.”


After El Dorado, Lumley went into the real estate business in Santa Fe. After 26 years in education, she says, “It was just time for a break.” After the real estate market crashed, Lumley was appointed assistant director for special education to the district in July 2009. According to SFPS Human Resources Director Tracie Oliver, the minimum qualifications for that position are a master’s degree in special education or a related field and five years of experience in special education or a related field. A special education teaching license is recommended, but not required, Oliver says.


Lumley’s master’s degree is in educational leadership, and she doesn’t have a special education certification, leading some teachers to question whether she was qualified.


“Bobbie has a tendency to hire her friends, and Susan Lumley is a friend of hers,” McGrew says. “It doesn’t matter if a person is qualified necessarily, but [Gutierrez] always finds a place for her, is the bottom line.”


Despite rumors that Gutierrez and Lumley are not only friends, but also sorority sisters, cousins and in-laws, both deny knowing each other before Lumley came to Santa Fe High. Gutierrez is from Lubbock, Texas, while Lumley is from Mesquite, and they never attended the same college.


Lumley says she believes ATC is the right match for her leadership skills and interests.


“Your focus has to be on how you can improve education for the kids, and that is the focus there,” Lumley says.


Her first priority in the $87,840-per-year position will be to work with the ATC community to establish goals for the school, Lumley says—with the hope that ATC’s charter is restored by June 30, 2012.


Yvette Martinez, a teacher who left ATC in June after six years there, says much is riding on Lumley’s ability to unite rather than divide the school.


“[ATC] needs someone that’s able to really bring the teachers together—someone with experience, but also someone that doesn’t come out of the standard mold of a district administrator,” Martinez says. “Charter schools are meant to operate a little bit differently and have some creativity in how they approach education.”

 

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