Oak Ridge principal out longer than expected

By From page A1 | February 10, 2016

One person was noticeably absent at the Oak Ridge High School eighth-grade orientation last week. Principal Paul Burke wasn’t there to welcome the incoming freshmen class despite many families believing he would be back on the job by now.

Burke has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 2, 2015, for undisclosed personnel reasons. At the Dec. 18, 2015, El Dorado Union High School District Board of Trustees meeting the board directed superintendent Steve Wehr to hire a third-party consultant over the winter break to “identify problems and solutions at Oak Ridge.”

The consulting firm was hired after the winter break and was put into play in mid-January. According to Wehr, the firm is completing interviews with Oak Ridge staff, administrative team members, teachers and Burke.

“They are conducting an independent assessment of the issues and possible solutions to the situation we are working through,” he said.

No findings or recommendations are expected until the Feb. 23 board meeting, at the earliest.

“Paul is hopeful that he will be returning to Oak Ridge in March to complete the year and work effectively with the administrative team well into the future,” said Oak Ridge parent and Back Burke spokesman Allan Priest.

Though no reason was ever given for Burke’s leave, citing confidentiality, it stems from conflict within.

“As for community input and participation, our voices will again become important in February as the Board of Trustees face a critical decision based on consultant and district recommendations,” Priest explained.

Meanwhile, Oak Ridge Director of Guidance Jon Pratt opened the orientation by introducing families to counselors Mandy Fiedler and Darcy Arburn. “Mandy and Darcy have facilitated eighth-grade orientation for the school for the past several years and do a nice job of sharing about selecting of classes, college requirements, the four-year plan,” Wehr said. The activities director and athletic director also shared information about their programs.

Parents think they’ve waited long enough.

“I understand the intention to remain positive but at some point the continued disrespect toward Paul, the students and the wishes of parents must be addressed,” parent Erin Walsh wrote on the Back Burke Facebook page. “Oak Ridge is a high-ranking high school in the Sacramento region, in the state of California, yet has lacked a leader for more than three months. How is that possible and how is that OK? This fight is no longer about how amazing Paul is. We know that. This fight should be about how the El Dorado Union High School District has failed. There is no one leading Oak Ridge. No vision. No strategy. That is a tragedy for the kids.”

When an on-campus theft occurred Jan. 17, 33-year Oak Ridge teaching veteran Bob Wilson said it was confusing not to know who to call when he learned tens of thousands of dollars in equipment had been stolen from his program.

“This ‘leave’ has gone on too long,” Janet Mawson posted. “I mistakenly got the impression that Mr. Burke was returning to Oak Ridge after the winter break and the consultants would work with the involved parties. The lack of urgency on behalf of the Board of Trustees is frustrating, unprofessional and a huge disservice to Mr. Burke and the students of Oak Ridge.”

Burke has only made one public statement since he was placed on leave, posting on his Facebook page after the December Board of Trustees meeting that he was grateful for the community’s support. “We are especially touched by the sentiments that have been shared in letters, e-mails, on the petition and at the board meetings,” Burke wrote. “Your voice was heard and it made a difference. I am proud to be the principal of Oak Ridge High School and to serve this amazing community.”

Julie Samrick


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