STEVENSVILLE - The March and April Stevensville School Board meetings left parents, students and community members upset.
At the March board meeting, students, parents and staff spoke passionately in favor of rehiring Stevensville High School counselor Katherine Mason, but the April meeting had a different result. Mason will not be offered a contract for the next school year.
Two students - one off to Princeton College and one a near dropout - shared their view of the educator both said made a major positive impact on their life.
Michael Tummarello, SHS senior, has been accepted to Princeton College, and credits Mason’s help for his success.
“I wouldn’t have gotten in without her,” said Tummarello. “It was just not at all fair. Mrs. Mason is one bright spot in the school. She is a huge asset to Stevensville and she’s been helping kids all across the board. She goes out of her way to help kids, daily. She goes above and beyond every day.”
Tummarello took the steps necessary and got a petition organized to voice the opinion of the student body.
“Students are outraged,” he said. “I realized why not get some of these voices to the school board. As soon as people heard, they would come and find me. More than half were begging to sign it. We got over half the student body.”
According to Tummarello, the whole series of events are wrong.
“At the [March] school board meeting, nearly 100 community members came to support her,” said Tummarello. “The administration said it was because she isn’t a good match for the school. But she was well above average on her performance review. The School Board heard everyone voice their opinion to rehire.”
A vote was taken and the audience thought she was rehired. But, according to Tummarello, the April meeting was a different story.
“They brought in a lawyer who said that since they voted not to not rehire her they had to vote again. That seemed under the radar, and at that meeting they limited public comment to one minute each. Even Mrs. Mason’s lawyer only had one minute. They kept voting until they got the answer they wanted – that’s not the way the process works.
“I’ve never seen anything so terrible in my life. I am horrified. It was a gross injustice.”
Kayla Ewing, also a senior at SHS, will be a first-generation high school graduate and a first-generation college bound student. Ewing struggles with health and family issues and nearly dropped out of school. She credits Mrs. Mason with counseling help.
“Last year I got sick – a chronic illness that they couldn’t even diagnose,” said Ewing. “I had a very bad time and struggled and started to lose hope. She helped me to accept not having answers and work through that and work at school – do the best I can with what was going on. It was really hard – I was suicidal. I have severe anxiety and depression.
“I’ve never met someone so willing to help with outcasts. A lot of my friends dropped out, but because of Ms. Mason they came back. She helps us so greatly.
“I had no idea how I would do my lifelong dream. Ms. Mason helped me fill out college applications and they cost money to even turn them in. She helped me to help get in with the Missoula College. I’m enrolled with Missoula College right now - accepted. She took me to have a meeting with an assistant there and the disability guy.
“It’s hard to imagine going through everything that I did without her there. I’ve had school counselors before but she is real, truthful.”
According to Stevensville Superintendent David Whitesell, “The board basically non-renewed a non-tenured teacher, according to 20-4-206 MCA - without a cause, without reason.”
Whitesell summed up the events of the March meeting.
“At the March meeting, the board had before them a motion not to renew her, and they listened to public comment. There was a lot of emotion - these things are difficult. The motion to not hire Mrs. Mason was rejected.”
Whitesell summed up April’s meeting: “For the meeting on Tuesday [April 8], the board had Katherine Mason on the agenda for clarification of her status. During the meeting, a board member made a motion not hire her, that motion was seconded and a vote taken. It failed as a tie, 4-4. After much discussion, another board member made a motion to hire her, that was seconded and that failed, 7-1. Then there was more discussion and then a motion was made to not hire her. It was seconded and it passed, 5-3.”
The school board decision means that Katherine Mason will not be issued a contract for next year.
Mason said she has had only positive job reviews and feels she has the skills to do the job.
“I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology (Virginia), a master’s in school counseling (CSU Sacramento), and was a practicing college career scholarship counselor prior to becoming a high school guidance counselor. I’ve been in the field for 15 years,” she said.
She said she is sad to leave a job she loves.
“Some of these kids, their stories are heartbreaking. I always tell them I wish I had a magic wand.”
She said the events have been emotionally very hard.
“This has been so horrible for me and my family, stress, anxiety, tears. I don’t feel like I will get my job back. It got very muddied and confusing and I’m not sure at this point if it can be changed. Our kids aren’t being valued and it’s a bad thing,” she said.
As of Thursday, Mason said they are in the grievance process right now, but that her position has already been advertised.