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School board right to point out how changes happened in administration

The Ely school board has taken plenty of heat over the years. Some of it deservedly but there are times when the blame has been misdirected.
A week ago Thursday high school principal Mary McGrane announced she would be resigning on March 31. We asked her for a reason to resign but only received the same message she gave to parents.
“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with Ely students, parents, staff, board and community members. In order for me to be true to myself and core values, the right thing for me to do is step away from serving as Ely Memorial Principal at this time. My last day will be March 31st. We have talented, smart, community oriented, wonderful students at Ely Memorial. It has been a pleasure serving as their principal. I will greatly miss the staff and students.”
Social media posts placed blame on the board and cited the turnover of the district’s administrative positions. But that blame is misdirected.
To start with McGrane resigned. She wasn’t under investigation. She wasn’t fired. She made a choice to leave two months before the school year was over. If we’re looking out for the best interests of the kids, there should be some outrage over leaving the district in a lurch since she couldn’t finish out the year.
Monday night after several people got up at the school board meeting to complain about McGrane’s resignation, Marsnik gave a needed history lesson:
“In the past 15 years there have been six high school or middle school principals - yes too many but let’s look at these six.
“Two of these people retired. Joslyn Murphy who was here for many years and did an excellent job for us. Laurie Kess, who filled in for awhile, retired.
“Two of those principals were promoted to the superintendent position, Kim Belcastro and Alexis Leitgeb. Lastly, two of those principals resigned.
“The first one to resign was Dan Bettin. And Dan Bettin when he left specifically said that he is leaving so he could be closer to his family and his ailing father. Dan Bettin sent me an email before he left and he thanked me and this board for giving him the opportunity to work in this community with the teaching staff, with the students and with the parents.
“And lastly Mary McGrane handed in her resignation. Mary McGrane was not fired, she was not asked to resign. That was her decision. This board was anticipating that she was going to be back next year and into the future. So maybe you can contact Mary and ask her what her reasons were for her leaving and if there are any board concerns, I or I’m sure any board member on this board would be willing to discuss those issues.
“Let’s go to the superintendents. In my 15 year tenure, we have had seven superintendents. Yes, too many.
“Two of those superintendents retired, Ray Toutloff and Don Langan. Both of those superintendents told me on numerous occasions that they couldn’t believe what a good school district we have and how they enjoyed working here.
“Two of the superintendents were interims. Ed Anderson when he took the job said he was only going to stay here for one year. He did an excellent job for us. The last thing Ed Anderson told me he said, ‘Ray, I wish Ely was 150 miles closer to my home town in Aitkin.’
“The second interim superintendent was Kevin (Abrahamson) who is sitting here tonight with us. Kevin was hired on a one year, interim contract basis. Now we are basically advertising to fill this position. We as a board are very happy with what Kevin is doing for us and we are all hopeful that Kevin will apply for the position and possibly be back with us next year and into the future.
“Two left to take superintendent positions elsewhere. Tom Bruels took a position in his hometown of St. Clair. I see Tom Bruels at the (Minnesota School Board Association) convention every year and the first thing Tom says is, How is everything in Ely? And we talk and he tells me what a great place this is.
“Another one that left is Kim Belcastro. She went to Wrenshall to become a superintendent over there. Why did Kim leave? Because the board was not supportive of her? No. Kim left because she wanted to be closer to her family. Her husband is the high school principal in Two Harbors. And she wanted to be closer. I talk to Kim frequently and that’s all she tells me, how much she enjoyed being here in Ely.
“Lastly one of the seven (Alexis Leitgeb) resigned.”
There you have it. We believe what Marsnik said is true, although Langan left before the end of the school year. To go back a bit further in time we could mention Terry Merfeld, a great superintendent who died suddenly and left a huge hole in the district.
To blame the school board for the turnover in administration just doesn’t hold water. Ely is not the ideal job for some people. We don’t have a mall and you may have to leave town to buy underwear. Some people take jobs here only as a stepping stone so they are here and gone.
But if the district hires someone and they resign on their own accord, blame is not the answer. If you’ve never been a principal or superintendant, maybe after doing it for a year or so you find out it’s just not for you.
Our only advice to the board would be to hire people with experience in the position you are putting them in. That wasn’t the case with the last two hires. Not that Ely can’t serve as someone’s first job but if you have the chance to hire someone who’s been in the position before, you may have fewer problems and resignations.

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