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Bizarre times continue in Thompson

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For the umpteenth time, Nancy, what in the world is going on in Thompson?

The revolving door on senior jobs continues in Mystery lake School Division, this time taking superintendent Bev Hammond, who lasted barely 16 months before quitting last week. The story first broke in The Thompson Citizen, and you can read my story here.

For those keeping score at home, Mystery Lake School Division has had three superintendents and eight assistant superintendents in the past four years.

R.D. Parker Collegiate has had three principals and nine vice-principals in that time and has had two acting principals after the school board fired principal Ryan Land in a remarkably public process last spring.

Some of the turnover occurred prior to Hammond’s being hired, and it certainly didn’t slow down during her brief tenure.

Hammond didn’t respond to interview requests to her email address and by phone to her office. The division also passed on the interview request to her.

It was left to board chair Alexander Ashton to talk about what happened, not that he had a lot to say.

Ashton said Hammond had resigned on Wednesday effective immediately for unspecified personal and professional reasons.

People who resign for health reasons usually do so immediately, but people who resign for person and professional reasons usually are expected to give notice and work for a reasonable amount of time.

Ashton said that the school trustees had not pushed Hammond and that the decision was entirely hers, and unexpected, though that’s when it gets a little murky.

"The resignation was on good terms for both parties," Ashton said Thursday.

"There were discussions -- ultimately, it was Bev's decision."

Discussions? About what? He wouldn’t say.

"Expected? Not really," he said, refusing to divulge further details.

Ashton refused to say if Mystery Lake gave Hammond any severance pay or any kind of financial settlement.

Um, why won’t you say? If someone quits on the spot, leaves and has nothing financial coming, why not say so? And if there was some payment under these circumstances, the money comes from Thompson taxpayers and the people of Manitoba who fund public education, and they’d kind of like to know how much this cost them and why.

Maybe people in Thompson will ask the school board for answers. Good luck with that.

As my story spells out, Hammond was at the centre of Land’s firing. His grievances will be heard later this year.

Which leads us to more stuff that will again seem a little strange.

Remember that bizarre job posting for the principal’s job at R.D. Parker Collegiate about which I wrote in December?

That’s the job posting that said Mystery Lake doesn’t want liars in the job, doesn’t want applicants who will misrepresent themselves or the division, but does want applicants who will be team players but also stand alone in defending the high school against outside force, and who will monitor the staff and the staff’s interactions with the students. The liars part, the job posting sought applicants who would not just tell the truth but specifically "the actual truth."

Ashton told me Thursday that Hammond didn’t write that job posting, that the division wrote it based on community suggestions. And the school board signed off on that bizarre wording?

Mystery Lake is no longer seeking a principal, said Ashton, who said that acting principal Wally Itson has the job permanently, though Ashton couldn’t remember when the school board had made that decision.

But later Thursday, Ashton emailed to correct a "detail," saying Itson doesn’t have the job permanently, he has a term position until June, though the trustees hope he’ll stay on beyond June.

Pause while that all sinks in.

This isn’t the metro Toronto school board, with hundreds of schools and tens of thousands of employees, this is Thompson and its one high school, the high school and principal’s job that have been at the heart of a firestorm the last couple of years. How can a school board chair not know if the one principal of the one high school is permanent or term contract?

Ashton also told me that the division won’t be looking anytime soon to replace Hammond. Instead, assistant superintendents Angel Bartlette and Lorie Henderson will share her duties.

In yet another follow-up email, Ashton said that, "Also if you will comment on turnover and such. All I can offer on that topic is that the obvious solution would be to promote from within the community."

Are the Mystery Lake trustees promoting from within the community because, given the astounding track record, it’s proving exceptionally difficult to find qualified applicants willing to move to Thompson?

Nancy, what in the world is going on in Thompson?

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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