Principals look to learn from Kelley situation

"While one junior high school principal awaits the outcome of criminal misdemeanor charges for failure to report child abuse, the rest of the Federal Way school district watches and waits. Especially interested are the principals of every other school in the district, as the court's decision could affect how they do their jobs in the future.Fannie Kelley, principal at Sacajawea Junior High School, is at the center of the controversy. On Dec. 22, she was charged by Federal Way prosecutors for failure to report child abuse. The case began with a much publicized affair between Nancy Alexander-Anderson, a 49-year-old teacher's aide, and a 15-year-old student. The illegal sexual relationship happened in the 1999-2000 school year, and prosecutors say Kelley knew about the illicit relationship. They say she also knew about complaints from the victim's mother, but did not report them to police when questioned last May.Now, Kelley faces one year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted of the charges. A trial date is set for Feb. 7.Kelley's fellow principals in the district say they are trying to see the situation in the best light and use it as a valuable learning experience.People find it unfortunate, said Marc Rieke, principal at Lakota Junior High School. There is learning from this and that is to review what we (principals) do and scrutinize that we're exercising good reason and good judgement. This gives everyone cause to review what we do and take the opportunity to re-teach and re-publicize with our staff.Rieke said the overall job of being principal encompasses the wearing of many hats. From being a team member, a leader and a manager, much of the position is also concentrated on the campus, coordinating and managing events, students and staff.There tends to be a degree of isolation, he said. And the pressure is there to to make the decisions, to do them well and make them right.On March 7, Kelley received an anonymous phone call from an acquaintance of Alexander-Anderson's. According to court papers, the caller told Kelley of the affair. But since the call was anonymous and could not be substantiated, Kelley allegedly dismissed it and did not tell officials about it. On May 18, when questioned by Federal Way Police, Kelley allegedly told them there were no complaints about Alexander-Anderson. Copies of district records, however, show that the victim's mother had complained about Alexander-Anderson. Saghalie Junior High School Principal Carol Eberhart calls the Kelley situation a unique experience and says it is difficult to react to it.I've not been in this situation before where a fellow principal has been placed on leave with a public investigation surrounding that, she said. It has implications on all of us. Fannie is a real live person we've worked with.Like Rieke, Eberhart says she is looking for ways to learn from what happened and steers clear of gossip or conjecture about Kelley.There's been talk from the standpoint of what's to be learned here, she said. I think we all individually and as a group want to carefully scrutinize our practices and our policies and check that we're operating within the law.The circle of principals in Federal Way is a close group and Eberhart says she likes the rapport, camaraderie and professionalism she finds among the group. But at the same time, she realizes a principal's duty to accountability.While we're collaborative and have a great rapport, we support an investigation and all need to abide by the laws, policies and procedures that have been set before us, she said. While we're a tight group, we're still accountable individually.While all the principals might not agree on the correctness of Kelley's actions, Brian Barker, executive director of the Association of Washington School Principals sees both sides of the issue.If principals were to report every anonymous call that came in to the school nobody would have time left to educate children, he said. At the same time, they have to screen and make judgements about those things that are important. We've almost put them into an unbearable situation. "

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