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Breaking News! D 49 board backs down after community protests

On March 17, more than 300 parents, students and Falcon School District 49 staff members descended on the district office to petition the Board of Education to reverse its position and renew the employment contracts of Sand Creek High School principal Mike Collins and his wife Sandy Collins, Vista Ridge High School principal. Mike Collins said he was called into the district office Monday and told the district was moving in a different direction and would not renew his contract for the 2009-2010 school year. Collins said this did not come alongside any performance review, and the dismissal caught him by surprise. “This is not how it is normally done,” he said.Collins defended his tenure and said the school has faced many challenges, including overcrowding to twice its capacity. Through proper planning and dedicated teachers, Collins said the school’s test scores had risen, and he was pleased with the results. “We just need more time,” he said.News of the principals’ impending dismissal circulated Monday via e-mail. It continued to spread much of Tuesday, with outraged parents calling for greater board accountability and transparency. Sand Creek and Vista Ridge students protested during a walkout but returned to class when prompted by their principals. By Tuesday evening, a crowd gathered at the district office, many with signs and T-shirts voicing their support for both Mike and Sandy Collins. About 120 people were seated inside the meeting, while the rest remained outside shouting chants “recall the board” and “leave our principal.”Alisa Allen, SCHS parent, brought her two daughters to the protest and said she was outraged. “Mr. Collins has been an awesome principal,” she said.Allen said her family is military and moving frequently has been difficult for her daughters. She credited Collins for providing a level of stability the family hasn’t found anywhere else.Inside the meeting, the room erupted in a standing ovation when Mike and Sandy Collins walked in. The D 49 school board received a much colder response, with some in the audience jeering and demanding more information about the cause for the non-renewal of the principals’ contracts.Board president Anna Bartha said the board would hear from the public, but because the matter was a personnel issue, they could not elaborate on the reasons behind not renewing the contracts.The board heard from parents, teachers and students – all speaking warmly of the Collinses, praising their hard work and genuine concern for students.Advocates for the principals painted a picture of dedicated educators, actively involved in student activities and always willing to go the extra mile.Shelly Leck, whose son is deaf and has attended both high schools, said Mike Collins often came to watch the soccer team play. “This made my son feel special,” she said.Malcon Caldwell, a Vista Ridge student, said Sandy Collins inspired and encouraged him. “I’m not the brightest student, but she believed in me and made me better,” he said.After an hour of public comment, Bartha concluded the session, and board members met two at a time behind closed doors. They emerged with a motion stating they would not take action to remove Mike and Sandy Collins from their respective schools.”We’ve heard your comments and concerns and have taken them all into consideration,” Bartha said in the statement. “The administration and I are willing to make a recommendation at this time that Mike Collins and Sandy Collins work within the appropriate structure to develop a specific plan of action with clear expectations to advance student achievement.”Although Mike and Sandy Collins will keep their jobs, parent Tom Harold is unhappy with the board. He said the board needed to communicate their goals and new direction for the district in a public meeting and inform their constituents.”It was a total copout,” Harold said. “They heard overwhelmingly from the public and their constituents, but they didn’t have the guts to answer the questions people were demanding.”

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