Kestrel Heights loses new principal

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 10:21 PM

Kestrel Heights School is again without a leader.

Veteran educator David “Dave” Malechek who just two weeks ago was hired to be the high school principal of Kestrel Heights School and to serve as the school’s interim director has resigned the post.

Parents learned about Malechek’s decision earlier this week and the resignation was discussed Wednesday during a town hall-style meeting held at the school to discuss parents’ growing list of concerns and the widening rift between parents and the school’s Board of Directors.

Lisa Gordon Stella, vice president of the Maureen Joy Board charter school Board of Directors and a recent candidate for the Durham school board, said Malechek decided that managing a school going through such a major transition was not something he wanted to do at this time.

“He believed this school was not something that he could manage,” said Gordon Stella, who said she was recently retained by Kestrel Heights to assist with human relations and other matters.

She explained that because past administrations did not put in place basic practices and procedures to address matters such as school finances and student safety, among others, that Malechek had a change a heart about leading the school of more than 1,000 students in grades K-12.

Gordon Stella also offered insight into what might have led to the Board of Directors’ decision not to renew the contract of school founder and high school Principal Tim Dugan.

Parents have been told by the board that members could not discuss the decision because it is a personnel matter protected by state law.

But Gordon Stella said that officials in the state Office of Charter School have told her that not renewing Dugan’s contract would be beneficial to the school.

“They believe him not being here was an incredibly positive step for this school,” Gordon Stella said.

Josephe Featherstone, president of the Kestrel Heights Board of Directors, tried to put distance between the board and Gordon Stella’s statement.

Featherstone said he didn’t know that state charter school officials had made such a statement and tried to reassure parents that Dugan was an “integral part of this school.”

“That was her [Stella Gordon] conversation with the Office of Charter Schools,” Featherstone said.

Parents attending the meeting, which was held in the school’s gymnasium, asked questions about how personnel decisions are made, expressed concern about the future of the school and wondered if they should make other plans for the upcoming school year.

They were also critical of the process that only allows members of the Board of Directors to elect new members to the body. Several folks attending the meeting said parents should elect board members.

Featherstone and other board members acknowledged mistakes and accepted blame for the recent downgrade from a five year charter to a three year charter because the board failed to provide public notice of meetings and has not followed proper procedures for closed sessions.

“For me, being the president of the board, I put it on me,” Featherstone said. “At the end of the day, the buck stops here when it comes to things that happened before. What I didn’t know, ignorance does not excuse that.”

Featherstone said he understands parents concern about the current lack of stability, but asked them for help in righting the ship.

“So, that’s where we are. It’s not a great place, but it’s a growing place, a place where we can build from,” Featherstone said. “It’s a cracked foundation but we can fix it. Kestrel has not fallen. It’s hasn’t gone down.”