Honokaa High principal placed on temporary leave

Published: Apr. 8, 2015 at 9:55 PM HST|Updated: May. 13, 2015 at 6:04 PM HST
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Marcella McClelland
Marcella McClelland

HONOKAA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state put a controversial Big Island principal on "temporary leave" Wednesday, just a day before a planned sign-waving campaign against her.

Marcella McClelland has been the principal of the 650-student Honoka'a High and Intermediate School for two years.

The teachers' union filed a rare "class-action" grievance against her, claiming she demoted respected veteran teachers and replaced them with inexperienced ones.

Concerned teachers, parents and others have collected signatures from more than 1,000 people calling for her removal.

In a statement Wednesday, the Department of Education said McClelland has been put on leave because it's in the "best interest of the principal, school and employees."

McClelland's critics planned a sign waving campaign for an hour before and after school Thursday.

A community meeting to discuss the situation had been scheduled for Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Honoka'a People's Theatre.

On April 6, McClelland walked out of a School Community Council meeting at the school as parents tried to ask her questions.

"I'm done. Thank you very much. I'm sorry, you don't get to talk to me that way," McClelland said as she packed up her papers and left the room.

Kim Erb, the parent of a Honoka'a high student, questioned McClelland about allegations she's demoting respected veteran teachers and replacing them with inexperienced ones.

"Why do we have four to five teachers that are not licensed in this state to teach at this high school? Why do you have several, three to four teachers from Waimea Elementary who are elementary teachers teaching high school students that are not highly qualified?" Erb asked, as McClelland departed.

Outspoken teachers have filed union grievances saying they're being punished for speaking out. In one case, a veteran science department chair in the high school is being replaced by an elementary teacher who's not licensed to teach high schoolers, teachers said.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, union for the public school teachers, has filed two grievances for individual teachers and a third more significant class-action grievance on behalf of many teachers at the school, an HSTA spokeswoman said.

The class-action grievance came after McClelland sent out tentative teacher assignments for the next academic year in February. Her plan has the veteran automotive shop teacher transferring to teach art, a science teacher transferring to teach physical education and elimination of the special education department head's post, teachers said.

Approximately one third of the school's core academic classes are being taught by unlicensed teachers or those not certified to teach in their disciplines said Miles Okumura, a Honoka'a teacher who has filed a grievance.

Okumura, who teaches in the school's at-risk student program, said the principal wants to transfer him to teach special education students, even though he is not certified in special education.

In March, the Honoka'a school council, made up of teachers, parents and community members, asked McClelland to explain several projects that they had never approved. They included $11,000 spent on flat-screen televisions installed in classrooms and the hiring of a part-time teacher to clean up the 11-acre school farm even though no routine student agriculture projects are underway there.

"We do now have some classes being taken down to the farm by their teachers to do activities at the farm and see what's going on down there," McClelland told the meeting.

But at the School Community Council meeting April 6, she said she didn't have a lot of specific answers about spending, partly because she was sick for much of March and her husband suffered a heart attack two weeks prior.

"I have not been well, and my husband. I'm going to let you know that we are behind on some of the things we need to do and we need to move forward," McClelland told the panel.

Council members complained McClelland repeatedly has refused to answer basic budget and policy questions.

Dena Ramirez, whose child graduated from the school recently and is a community representative on the school council complained: "And it seems to get tabled and so again, I can never really get any answers as to how the current year is going."

Ivy Tabac, whose daughter graduated from Honoka'a last year, said the principal has not been good at communicating with parents or faculty.

"She doesn't like anybody questioning her. She doesn't ask for opinions, which that's what the school community council is about," Tabac said.

Some parents and teachers at Honoka'a said she's definitely not living up to the school's values of "do the right thing" and "work together."

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