Hawaii middle school principal ousted after mounting complaints over leadership

Mounting complaints have led to a leadership change at a West Kauai middle school.
Published: Jul. 31, 2023 at 4:32 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 31, 2023 at 5:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mounting complaints have led to a leadership change at a West Kauai middle school.

Dozens of parents, teachers and students rallied Monday morning outside Waimea Canyon Middle School to demand Principal Melissa Speetjens be removed ahead of the start of the school year.

Attendees said they’ve brought up concerns about school safety, bullying, and the quality of education, but contend Speetjens brushed off those worries.

Staff members also say when they speak up, they fear retaliation.

“Whatever the issue was, we kept hearing the same stories that she just refused to work with people in the community, she refused to work with the parents,” said Uilani Corr-Yorkman, a parent and former DOE educator. “She was very degrading, super disrespectful.”

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Corr-Yorkman currently heads an early learning center on the island, but is speaking out as a concerned parent of a Waimea Canyon Middle School student.

She previously worked with Speetjens over a decade ago while she was the vice principal at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She recalled some concerns among staff at the time, but the issues got worse in recent years, she said.

Some say distance learning during the pandemic led to a decline in an already difficult situation.

“From 2017 to now, we have gone backward. And its unfair to our students and to our community to continue this toxic environment for our children,” said parent Taryn Dizon.

“We need to create an environment that is safe where they an learn.”

Concerned parents also met with DOE officials on Kauai last week.

They shared their gripes with Kauai Complex Area Superintendent Daniel Hamada and Kauai Board of Education Member Bill Arakaki. Then, hours after Monday morning’s rally, Hamada send out a letter to middle school faculty announcing Speetjens would not be returning as principal.

Instead, Ray Carvalho is taking over as interim principal starting Tuesday for the new school year.

The letter did not directly address the concerns raised, but thanked Speetjens for her years of service at the school. Speetjens is believed to have been reassigned to another school.

And that concerns some.

“I don’t think she belongs at any school at this point in our community. I think she’s done enough damage,” Corr-Yorkman said. “But I’m elated. I’m happy for our kids, I’m happy for our teachers, our staff members. I really think that now they can start to heal.”

Hawaii News Now reached out directly to Speetjens for comment, but the request was forwarded to DOE officials.