IM this article to a friend!

January 22, 2003

Superintendent of school for deaf quits

From: Oregonian, OR - 22 Jan 2003


VANCOUVER -- Leonard E. Aron has resigned as superintendent of the Washington School for the Deaf, effective Feb. 15.

Aron submitted his verbal resignation to Gov. Gary Locke late Tuesday afternoon, said Michael Marchand, the governor's spokesman.

That was nine days after the board of trustees sent a letter to Locke, who oversees the school, saying members had no confidence in his ability to continue leading the school and recommended he be relieved of his job.

Aron was out of town and unavailable for comment.

His resignation comes 4/1/2 years after he took the job and 31/2 years after parents first publicly aired concerns about sexual and physical abuse on campus -- and the school's reaction to their complaints.

His resignation comes 11 days after trustees met with several state legislators in executive session to discuss ongoing problems at the school and administrators' lack of response in creating a safe place for students.

"After lengthy deliberation," the trustees' Jan. 12 letter said, "the board was polled for a show of support for the superintendent, Len Aron. The poll resulted in a determination of no confidence for Mr. Aron's continuing leadership."

The trustees asked Locke to remove Aron and appoint an interim superintendent.

Although trustees set policy for the daily workings of the school on Grand Boulevard, the governor hires and fires the superintendent.

Aron will submit a written letter of resignation to Locke soon, Marchand said.

"Right now, we will be looking for an immediate replacement and consult with the board for a permanent successor," he said. A national search for a new superintendent is likely, he said.

The board's letter, signed by Pat Clothier, board chairwoman, reached Locke's office Jan. 15. Aron had been informed of its contents shortly after it was sent, and he contacted Kari Burrell, executive policy adviser to Locke on human services, Marchand said.

Aron told Burrell he was considering resigning, but wanted some time to think about it, he said. Aron called Burrell Tuesday afternoon to resign; he has not spoken directly with Locke.

Marchand said school trustees had been informed of Aron's decision. He did not know whether the school's staff and students had been told.

Reached late Tuesday, Clothier said she wants to keep the school open and feels there's broad support for doing so.

"I also feel really, really strongly that we have, at our fingertips, the capacity to make it a wonderful school," she said. "I know we can make it a safe school.

"Student safety has always been (a primary issue)," said Clothier, whose son attended the school.

Ten lawsuits and one tort claim have been filed against the state in recent years alleging sexual and physical misconduct. Some alleged incidents occurred during Aron's tenure.

But state Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, who sponsored the first public parents' meeting about safety concerns, said he hoped Aron's resignation "isn't too late." Support for the school among some legislators has slipped, he said.

"There are comments from the House side that there are some frustrated people who don't see a light at the end of the tunnel," Zarelli said. "I think it's going to be hard to change some minds unless" significant directional change is evident in the next month or so.

Zarelli said he wanted the school to remain open, with some program changes. But he said other "internal personnel issues" remain, despite Aron's departure.

Clothier said she, too, wants to see more administration changes.

"I would expect to see some changes, some forward movement, progressive movement, that would create change and a nervousness" among other current administrators, she said.

While improvements were made at the school in recent years, Clothier said, "They weren't enough and they weren't encompassing enough." Holley Gilbert: 360-896-5721; 503-294-5900

© 2003 All Rights Reserved.