PHS vice-principal’s contract non-renewed without cause
By B.L. Azure
High School Vice-Principal Shawn Hendrickson addressed the media after
hearing that his contract would not be renewed. (B.L. Azure photo)
POLSON — Monday evening around 75 people plus the trustees and
district administrative staff crammed into the Linderman Elementary
School library for a highly-charged emotional agenda item:
administrative contracts. In particular the “without cause”
recommendation by the PHS administration and School District 23
Superintendent David Whitesell to not renew the contract of PHS
Vice-Principal Shawn Hendrickson.
Several people, including parents, students, former students
and colleagues of Hendrickson showed up and testified in support of
retaining Hendrickson. No one testified in support of the without cause
non-renewal of contract.
Hendrickson, a PHS graduate, has
served as the PHS vice-principal since the 2009-2010 school year.
Previously he has worked in administrative positions on the Fort Peck
Indian Reservation in Montana, the Lummi Indian Reservation in
Bellingham, Washington, and in Lewiston, Idaho near the Nez Perce
Indian Reservation. He served at the latter institution four years
prior to moving back to Polson in 2009.
His professional goal: to eventually return to his alma mater,
was achieved then. He had previously applied for the PHS vice-principal
position twice, was interviewed twice and was offered the position
twice before finally accepting it the third opportunity.
serving as the PHS vice-principal, Hendrickson was encouraged by
administration to apply for the high school principal position.
However, he declined, expressing the desire to remain in the
vice-principal position for the time being.
“I respectively told both of them (Superintendent David
Whitesell and acting-Principal Bill Appleton) that I had 20 years until
retirement, I want to retire in the district, and that I didn’t want to
spend all 20 of those as principal of the high school,” Hendrickson
Consequently the Polson school board hired current high school
principal, Rob Hankins, who on Jan. 26 informed Hendrickson that his
contract would not be renewed for the 2011-2012 school year.
to Hendrickson, when he queried for reasons Hankins told him that both
he and Superintendent Dave C. Whitesell recommended non-renewal
Hendrickson’s contract “without cause.”
Hankins to reconsider the decision but when Hankins approached
Whitesell the next day about reconsidering the non-renewal decision of
Hendrickson’s contract, he was rebuffed by Whitesell.
In a Jan.
31 meeting with Whitesell, Hendrickson said he was told that his
“skill-set wasn’t a right fit for the district” and that he “was
failing to see the full picture.”
Hendrickson offered to resolve the situation by, among other
things, rectifying whatever was needed in order for him to remain on
staff. However there were no remedies offered from Whitesell, who told
Hendrickson that he was following Principal Hankin’s recommendation and
would not change his mind. “Dave said, ‘I am following the
recommendation of your principal. I have to support my principal,”
Hendrickson said. “So you see where I’m at. I’ve got both people
telling me it was the other’s decision, and no one can tell me what I
have done wrong.”
That gray area of not knowing why he was being fired as well as
a now uncharted future has weighed heavily on Hendrickson and his
“The last three weeks have been the most
trying times I’ve had in my life... I went from celebrating the birth
of my second child the end of December and now this,” Hendrickson said
in his address to the school board.
“At no time since I started working in the Polson School
District, have I been reprimanded, written-up, disciplined, received
any black marks on my record, or told I wasn’t performing the duties of
my job,” Hendrickson said. “I’ve been given nothing but praise and good
evaluations since I started. Now I’m being told I’m not right for
Polson High School, and not worthy of keeping my position. What’s
Hendrickson said the only change has been the hiring of Hankins
and increased working hours. “I have live up to every stipulation in my
contract, with care, skill and diligence,” he said. “I challenge anyone
to come up with an example in which I have failed to meet any
obligation of my job.”
School District 23 Board of Trustee Vernon Finley addresses the crowd
at Monday night's school board meeting telling them what his options
are when it comes to voting yea or nay to no renew the contract of
Polson High School Vice-Principal Shawn Hendrickson. (B.L. Azure photo)
One of the obligations of the job, Hendrickson said, is the
implementation of the Indian Education For All Act and its Montana
Constitution mandate. Hendrickson is a descent member of the
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
At PHS he established
the district-wide Indian Education For All committee, the Celebration
of Families Powwow committee, the Native American history class, and,
among other things, is the advisor of the PHS Indian Club. He also sits
on all but one high school committees.
“Mr. Hendrickson came into this position with outstanding
reviews from all of his past positions. He was interviewed and offered
this position twice. His reviews from his first year in Polson were as
outstanding as his reviews were in previous positions,” Alan Mikkelsen,
conflict resolution consultant, told the school board. “He is a Native
American administrator in a school on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with both Native
American and other students. Every single review and evaluation of Mr.
Hendrickson has been outstandingly positive his entire career,
including his first year review here in Polson. So what has changed?
Why would you, as a school board, want to lose this experience, this
commitment to your community, this role model for your students, both
Indian and non-Indian.”
Several PHS students spoke in favor of retaining Hendrickson.
know I can count on him to help me do my best in the classroom,” said
one American Indian student, adding that he treats everyone the same,
regardless of race. However, race or lack of racial diversity within
the educational process in Polson and other Montana school districts
does play a part in the academic achievement of Indian students. “We
know what it is like to go to school and never see a positive role
model. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to us.”
“I am at a loss, I don’t understand how you can let someone go
like this without cause,” said one Polson woman. “Shawn has helped
bring this community together.”
“Everything in Polson High School has improved since Shawn
came,” said another student. “His door is always open. He is someone I
look up to, the majority of the students look up to him like no other
“This is politics,” said Julian Many Hides, father of PHS student. “We shouldn’t have to shame you to keep this gentleman here.”
“It’s time that we have role models like Shawn in the
classroom,” said Lois Friedlander, PHS student parent. “If anything we
need more Shawns here.”
“My daughter says ‘Shawn is cool’ and she can relate to him,”
said Chris McDonald. “The kids look up to him and see how far he has
come. Yet you guys can sit there and say, ‘We can destroy your life -
for no reason.’”
Trustee Vernon Finley was the only member of the school board
to address the audience prior to casting of votes. Throughout the
entire hearing the board members and administration members at the dais
rarely raised their heads to make eye contact with folks testifying or
the audience. He said the recommendation to dismiss Hendrickson without
cause came from the administration - Polson School District
Superintendent David Whitesell. That “without cause” means the
administration doesn’t feel that a person can perform the job...”
Finley said he was the board member who initially recommended the hiring of Hendrickson.
the past the administration has been a very difficult place to work,”
When you have a divided administrative team, who loses? The students.
Who wins? The lawyers.” Finley said. “The whole thing for me is, are we
going back to that: a divided administration.”
Finley said that there were many people in the community as
well as high school students and staff that were not in favor of
“I’m not at the school all the time but
I have received emails and phone messages about this. The opposition
(to Hendrickson) doesn’t show up at these type of meetings but the
supporters do,” Finley said. “With all this in mind, what do you do? I
am in a position here where I have to vote to keep the administration
united or not. That is what it boils down to.”
Shortly after the trustees voted 6-1 to follow the non-renewal without cause recommendation of Hankins and Whitesell.
Sobs and disgruntled disbelief filled the air immediately after
the vote was cast. The overwhelming majority of the attendees left the
room bewildered by what they had just witnessed, especially the
“without cause” nature of the non-renewal of the apparently popular
“I appreciate the community support and that of the students
and staff of Polson High School. I will always bleed purple and gold,”
Hendrickson said following the decision of the school board. “I was
hoping the school board would see the good side of everything I done
here. I am disappointed with the action and under legal advice that is
all I have to say.”
Hendrickson said he would continue to do his job with students’ needs paramount until the end of the school year.