Elementary school parents demand full-time principal due to bullying, school culture issues

WEST OLIVE, Mich. -- Parents whose children share one principal between two elementary schools in the West Ottawa Public School district are pushing for a full-time principal, saying bullying is escalating and the school culture is suffering.

Several parents are sharing their concerns anonymously with FOX 17 about their students being bullied and a lack of leadership when the principal is not there, leaving the main office secretary in charge, at Sheldon Woods Elementary in West Olive. However, district officials responded to FOX 17 saying while they're working to discuss issues with parents, they intend to continue sharing one principal between the two elementary schools located a few miles apart: Sheldon Woods and North Holland.

"Yes we’re a small school, but we should have a full-time principal," said Teisha Kladder, a mother of four including a fourth grader attending Sheldon Woods.

According to the district, for years Sheldon Woods and North Holland Elementary have shared a principal due to student enrollment. This year's enrollment at Sheldon Woods is 139 students, and North Holland has 212 students.

Kladder along with many parents demand a full-time principal at Sheldon Woods, and gathered at least 84 signatures on a change.org petition.

"The only office staff is the secretary, but when the principal is out there’s nobody else that’s there to take the authority role," Kladder said. "The teachers feel frustrated that things aren’t being handled right.”

Previously, Kladder says she volunteered during lunch recess at Sheldon Woods, saying when the principal is off-site there is no proper staff or protocol to deal with behavioral issues, which breaks down the school's culture.

"I think it’d help the kids so maybe they’d be a little more willing to behave in class, know that there are consequences to actions, and not having to wait a day or so for it to be addressed," she said, "or thinking ‘Oh I can get away with it because the principal is not here.'"

Another parent who asked to remain anonymous told FOX 17 a student punched their daughter in the face recently, due to a fight over a toy, when the principal was out of the building. This parent said it's unclear who handles the discipline in situations like this.

In response, the West Ottawa Public School's Associate Superintendent of Business Services Jim English wrote FOX 17 this statement:

“West Ottawa Public Schools is focused on providing a safe and welcoming school environment for all students. We are confident in the abilities of our school leaders throughout the District. We are also familiar with the petition that is being circulated regarding the hiring of an additional principal at Sheldon Woods and North Holland Elementary Schools. As such, we are working to get in contact with those involved to discuss with them directly. However, at this time, the District plans to maintain the current structure in place, with one principal at the helm of both schools, who is supported by building leaders at all times. This structure has been the case for many years and is dictated by the number of students currently enrolled. Additionally, there is a strict anti-bullying policy in place throughout the District.”

Additionally, in response to some parents' concern regarding the Sheldon Woods' drinking fountains' water, English told FOX 17, "the water is regularly tested and is safe to drink. However, it is well water so bottled water is provided due to taste."

Still, Kladder and others say they need full-time leadership despite their smaller study body.

"Sheldon Woods is a great school, and we’d like to keep it small, and the teachers are great, most of the students are great, a lot of parent involvement," said Kladder. "It’s like one close-knit family with it being a smaller school, we just need a full-time principal."

FOX 17 asked Principal Kevin Westrate for comment; he deferred to the Superintendent's office.

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