Bellview Elementary principal faces layoff

Ashland School District's superintendent has proposed that Bellview Elementary School Principal Christine McCollom be laid off at the end of the school year, in order to trim the cash-strapped district's budget.

If the school board approves the layoff at its May 11 meeting, McCollom, who has served as principal for three years, would be replaced by senior administrator Michelle Zundel, whose current position as director of education would be eliminated. Part-time secretary Connie Lynn, who works under Zundel, also would lose her job.

The move, which would require Zundel to take a pay-cut, would save the district $157,000. The district has already approved two rounds of cuts this year to try to thin its budget by $4.3 million, as the recession staves off funding for schools.

After the school board decided not to outsource all cafeteria operations next year and opted to save some high school activities from being eliminated — especially club sports and the auto shop program — Superintendent Juli Di Chiro had to find other ways to trim the already emaciated budget, she said.

"I really didn't have much choice except to look at continued staff reductions," Di Chiro said. "I was trying not to lay off another administrator because we are already very, very slim."

"I don't think it's in the best interest of the school district to have to go in this direction, but unfortunately we're forced to make this cut," she said.

Di Chiro told McCollom on Friday that she may be laid off.

Di Chiro's decision has prompted outrage among some Bellview employees, as well as students and their parents.

"I felt shocked," said Jackie Hassell, an educational assistant at Bellview, who heard the news Friday and tried to explain it to students on Monday. "I had to respond to children at work today who had heard rumors and asked me if their principal has been fired."

Hassell said she thinks it's unfair that Walker Elementary School Principal Patricia Michiels isn't also facing a possible layoff, since she was hired at the same time as McCollom, and the two have equal amounts of experience in the district.

"That kind of hasn't been explained," Hassell said. "I feel disbelief that it would happen when we have another principal who has the exact same time with the district and, why one and not the other?"

Although Di Chiro said she couldn't discuss the details of her decision, she did say that both principals are highly qualified.

"It was like a tough choice between two children that you love very much and neither one had a problem with their performance, but a choice had to be made," she said. "Christine McCollom has done an excellent job at Bellview."

Di Chiro said her decision to lay off an administrator was influenced by parents and teachers who spoke out at recent school board meetings. They called on the district to eliminate more administrative positions, because higher proportions of teachers, educational assistants, cafeteria workers and other workers have already been cut.

The superintendent's choice of who to cut appears to be based largely on the amount of experience each administrator has.

Zundel has been an administrator with the district for at least a decade, and although McCollom and Michiels have both been with the district for the same amount of time, Michiels previously served as an administrator in the Medford School District.

Prior to serving as director of education, a position she took in 2006, Zundel served as principal at Walker for seven years.

Michiels, who replaced Zundel when she was transferred to her current position, taught English and drama at Del Norte High School in Crescent City, Calif., for 17 years and served as the dean at McLaughlin Middle School in Medford for three years. She has also taught online master's of art and teaching courses for Concordia University for more than three years.

After working as an English teacher and literacy coach at an elementary school in Salem for nine years, McCollom moved to Ashland from Beaverton to become the Bellview principal in 2006.

As of Tuesday morning, McCollom had not returned messages seeking comment for this story.

It is unclear if she will seek another position in the district if she is laid off. She is several months pregnant and she and her husband, Michael, have a preschool-aged son.

In addition to budget cuts, Bellview has faced a number of changes this year. The school's Tolman Creek Road campus is undergoing renovations and classes are being held on the Ashland Middle School campus.

If McCollom is laid off, the children at the school will be face with yet another change, said Hassell, the administrative assistant.

"And the children who are already in a transition year already have this to deal with now too," she said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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