The superintendent at Chief Leschi Schools was back on the job Friday after more than a month of paid administrative leave from the school operated by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
The School Board placed Amy Eveskcige on leave in mid-November for “personal reasons,” according to tribal spokesman John Weymer.
“It’s been an emotional issue,” he said.
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Returning Eveskcige to her position was a decision of the Puyallup Tribal Council, which also announced it was disbanding the School Board and temporarily taking over direct governance of the school, Weymer said.
He said the council plans to appoint a new School Board after it posts a notice about the open positions in the tribal newspaper. Former board members Lena McCloud, Sylvia Murray, Robert Daniels and Phillip Dillon can reapply, he said.
Asked why the council dismissed the School Board, Weymer said council members believed the board had gone too far in suspending Eveskcige and in hiring an outside attorney to investigate questions raised about her in the school community.
He declined to say what those questions were. Eveskcige could not be reached for comment.
Weymer said the Tribal Council believes such an inquiry should have been launched only with council approval.
In addition, after two days of meetings on the subject, the council came to the conclusion that Eveskcige did not need to be suspended, Weymer said.
He said tribal chairman Bill Sterud remarked that the tribe was welcoming Eveskcige back to work “with open arms.”
Leschi enrolls more than 650 students in preschool through high school. That’s down from a high of more than 900 several years ago.
The school is funded in part by the federal Bureau of Indian Education and operated by the Puyallup Tribe.
The school currently enrolls more than 650 preschool through high school students, down from a high of more than 900 several years ago.
Eveskcige’s administration started on a positive note before erupting into controversy.
She grew up in Tacoma and came to Leschi in 2015 after serving in administrative jobs in public schools in Tacoma, Puyallup and on Vashon Island.
She is the first member of the Puyallup Tribe to serve as superintendent at Leschi.
Near the end of the 2015-16 school year, students walked out in protest over the firing of teachers and staff members. More than a quarter of the school’s employees — at least 50 teachers, counselors and others — were laid off.
At the time, officials said the layoffs were to make room for a new vision that would boost academic performance at Leschi.
This fall, more turmoil erupted over a new policy meant to tighten enrollment criteria and restrict enrollment to students who qualify for BIE funding.
Parents complained that the new policy barred some students who had been at the school for years, and also divided families in which some children met the criteria while their siblings did not.
Then in November came the suspension of the superintendent.
It’s been an emotional issue
Puyallup Tribe of Indians spokesman John Weymer
Staff members and others connected to Leschi, who spoke to The News Tribune anonymously saying they feared retaliation, said they believe the superintendent’s return could bring more discord.
“There are staff in place who spoke with the (School Board’s) investigator who are in fear of losing their jobs,” one source said.
Several people said there already has been a spate of staff resignations.
A person who was employed at the school until recently said the school has experienced “unethical practices and unsafe working conditions.” A teacher said staff members feel “unsafe.”
A teacher also said staff members have had to cope with changing curriculum and multiple schedule adjustments this year.
“The students ask every day, ‘What are we doing today?’ There is no consistency or structure for them,” the teacher said.
One source questioned whether the Tribal Council, in dissolving the School Board, was acting properly. That person said the board could be dissolved only by a vote of parents and students.
Weymer said the council believes it has the authority to restructure the School Board. He said the council acted after consulting its legal staff.