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January 26, 2003

Outgoing state Deaf chief hails own record

From:, WA - 26 Jan 2003

By TOM VOGT, Columbian staff writer

Len Aron says he has made some milestone improvements in five years as superintendent at the Washington School for the Deaf.

Pat Clothier, president of the school's governing board, said Aron received a positive performance appraisal in his last review. And, Clothier said, she would offer a positive recommendation when Aron applies for his next job.

Which might be happening in the next couple of months. Aron's tenure ends Feb. 15, when his recently announced resignation takes effect.

Aron is leaving after a series of allegations involving sexual misconduct on the Vancouver campus -- charges that produced lawsuits, led to investigations, prompted safety-related changes on campus and ultimately resulted in this month's no-confidence vote from the board of trustees.

"I can just say I came in and did a very good job with a very difficult assignment," Aron said.

"We have made a good team, and I am sorry it is not possible to continue it," Clothier said after Aron announced his resignation.

The team analogy came up in a recent meeting that helped determine Aron's future, Clothier said. When the board met Jan. 10 with six legislators, one of the lawmakers compared the situation to a football team, Clothier said.

"You like the coach and you like the team, but lose one more game, and that doesn't matter," Clothier said as she recalled the conversation.

When he was hired in 1998, Aron said, he was challenged to upgrade a school with deteriorating facilities, policy gaps, curriculum weaknesses and major safety lapses that dated to the early 1980s.

"I couldn't find policies or procedures; books were from the 1970s and '80s, and the unions were fighting," Aron said.

"I found a very disorganized agency," Aron said, "and rebuilt the organization from the ground up."

Some critics of Aron's leadership said that those accomplishments came up short in what should be the most important area: student safety.

Aron responded by citing the findings of an oversight program conducted by a branch of the state's Department of Social and Health Services. The Division of Licensed Resources, which oversees licensed foster care, has been conducting checks at the school every three months since December 2001.

"They interview staff, kids, parents; they look at everything and determine if it is safe," Aron said. "They give the school very good ratings. Those charged with looking at safety have left saying this school is a very safe place."

And, the report issued June 14, 2002, said the school has done "an admirable job" in implementing the division's recommendations.

However, a spokeswoman called that "an incomplete picture."

"No doubt, improvements were made. But there is a new allegation that is troubling," Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the Division of Licensed Resources, said Friday. She would not comment on the alleged incident in September: "You must remember that it is under investigation and has not been proven."

Clothier credits Aron with getting the school headed the right way, and the trustee chairwoman said she would be a positive job reference.

"I would be very positive about the vision and the plans Len has put in place," she said. "He knows how to encourage people to go forward. He really has some wonderful skills and I would share that with anyone who asks me."

There will be no contract issues involving the turnover because there is no contract.

"As an agency director, I serve at the pleasure of the governor," Aron said.

While Gov. Gary Locke appointed Aron, it's possible that the trustees might get a shot at picking the new superintendent, Clothier said. In the past year, the board has changed from an advisory body to a governing board.

"I don't want to second-guess the governor," she said, "but I could see the responsibility of finding a superintendent handed to us."

Copyright © 2003 by The Columbian Publishing Co.