School Board Battles Transparency

The community and the school board frequently brought up the words “communication” and “transparency” as a packed house sat in attendance during a regularly scheduled Gibraltar School Board meeting on Monday night. Following the abrupt and unexpected resignation of secondary school principal Kirk Knutson, many in the community still felt as though they were not made aware of what happened.

Superintendent Tina Van Meer sent out a letter to parents and faculty of the district with details on the next steps for the school board. “On behalf of the Gibraltar Area School District, the Board of Education and administration thank him for his seventeen years of dedicated service,” Van Meer wrote. The letter proceeds to outline the upcoming steps for the board in securing a new administrator.

“Without clear explanation there are some glaring questions,” said John Cox in response to the letter. Cox served as Knutson’s aide for 10 years prior to his retirement last year. “There was not enough information in that letter for the public, the parents, grandparents and alike to determine what is going on here. It needs to be completed,” said Cox.

School Board President Fred Anderson opened the meeting with a letter from Knutson thanking the board and the community for their support. “I’d like to state that my resignation was my choice. The school board has accepted and approved my request to resign. I take full responsibility for their choice,” stated the letter.

Knutson served in the district for 17 years before his resignation on the Monday before Thanksgiving during a meeting with Van Meer. While initially stating that he would be willing to return, he has since declared that he will not seek employment with the district right now. Chris Hecht, who is close to Knutson and serves as the Sister Bay Fire Chief, said, “He asks that we re-focus our efforts toward improving the school and not toward having him reinstated.”

The board’s agenda did not set aside a time for discussion about Knutson, but seven people stood during the general public comment portion of the meeting to discuss these efforts to improve the school. Despite Knutson’s wish, many comments were flavored with his departure.

Gibraltar senior Makenna Ash represented the concerns of the student body, which included Knutson serving as a counselor to students, the lead for their senior project and his role in the arrival of mock trial to Gibraltar schools. Ash also cited confusion over the validity and the ability to secure college letters of recommendation from Knutson, which many students were relying on. “Most of the students feel as if we were not respected enough to be informed as to what was going on. No one ever publicly addressed us as to what was happening; even if we had received a censored version, something that was not rumors in the grapevine. But we were never addressed. Dr. Knutson was our principal and no one told us what was happening,” said Ash.

With Knutson not seeking reinstatement, elementary school principal Brian Annen will serve as the K-12 principal and the board will begin the search for a new secondary school principal in January. In the past, the board created a committee of community members, staff and board members to select a new administrator. The district anticipates the new principal to begin work on July 1 of next year.

Last week the Peninsula Pulse filed an open records request for information on Knutson.