Schools: Supporters sign petition for Katko

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By Carol A. Clark

More than 100 signatures have been received during two-hour shifts Friday and Monday at Film Festival alone as parents and staff members circulate petitions throughout the community “to save Mike Katko’s job as principal of Mountain Elementary School.”

The prevalent sentiment among those filing into Film Festival to sign the petition and still others calling the Monitor is that they are alarmed that parents are being encouraged to attend the superintendent finalists presentations Friday to give input about who would best lead the schools – but have been given no reason why Katko is being “forced out of a job he treasures.”

“It’s a secret select few, who don’t even reflect the majority of the community, who are determining the fate of Mr. Katko and no one else is even being allowed to know what’s behind it,” said one parent who did not want to be named.

In an earlier interview, Superintendent Mary McLeod said she would review principal evaluations in mid-April but declined this morning to say whether she had done so and whether Katko was staying or going. “I’m sorry but this is a personnel matter and I really can’t comment,” McLeod said.

Katko did not immediately return calls for comment.

Mountain parent Tom Carter expressed his concerns during an interview Monday. “I think Mr. Katko is being railroaded,” Carter said. “I called school board member Ken Johnson who said the school board isn’t involved in this yet and he referred me to the superintendent’s office but it was almost 5 p.m. and no one was there on Friday. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like Mr. Katko and I haven’t heard anyone say he has done something immoral or illegal so I can’t imagine why he’s being asked to leave.”

Carter has heard second hand, he said, that two or three teachers want Katko to resign. “The teachers are tenured and they’re doing their best to move Mr. Katko out,” he said.

Stacy Stubben is a former Mountain PTA vice president. She and her daughters, both Mountain students, handled the petition booth at Film Festival on Arkansas Street Monday afternoon. “We’re doing this to show our support for Mr.Katko because he’s so good with the kids and they love him,” she said.

Sara Stubben, 11, has known Katko for several years, she said. “Even though I’m a sixth-grader I still want Mr. Katko to stay at Mountain,” she said. “He comes into our classrooms and asks us how we’re doing, what we’re doing and how our day is going … he’s really nice.”

Mountain parent Patty Burnside called Katko the day the story first broke in the Monitor in early April. “I have three kids at Mountain and Mr. Katko is a great person, always positive and happy with the kids… my kids really like him,” Burnside said. “I called him after I read the story and asked him what was going on. Mr. Katko said, ‘I don’t want to resign.’ That’s all I needed to hear and I decided we need to do something to support him.”

Katy Romero’s fifth-grade son has been at Mountain since kindergarten. “We’ve gotten to know Mike Katko this year and he has an open-door policy and is warm and down to earth,” Romero said, adding that she has no idea why he would be asked to leave.

Community member Jennifer Stradling has a two-year-old who will be attending Mountain in about three years. “I understand that students are signing a petition and have started attaching notes to Mr. Katko’s office door telling him they love him and asking him to stay,” Stradling said. “That’s huge – It’s amazing to see how much he’s positively affected the children at Mountain School. He knows them by name, he’s out there doing crosswalk and lunch duty nearly every day and the children love him.”

Mountain Elementary School staff member Heather Humphrey arrived at Film Festival Monday afternoon and signed the petition in support of her boss. “He greets the children almost every morning and as soon as the bus arrives he greets every single child by name and gives them high-fives while telling them to have a great day,” Humphrey said.

Support for Katko continues to grow, said Stubben.

“We had over 100 signatures in two hours Friday and two hours today at Film Festival alone and there are many other petitions being circulated,” Stubben said.

Even Katko’s mother signed one of the petitions on Monday.

Parent Samara Graham has known Katko for the four years he’s been Mountain principal. “He’s very generous and kind with the kids and very open and approachable with the parents,” Graham said. “If there were any place where he could improve - I wish he was firmer with parents and teachers when circumstances warrant. But I also wish as parents that we could understand better what is going on. They are taking a chance with our kids and I as a parent would like to know why this is happening. I’d rather give Mr. Katko a second chance than start over with someone else whom we don’t know at all.”

Stubben and others intend to return to the petition booth at Film Festival from 4-6 p.m. today and she encourages parents, students and staff to stop by to sign a petition in support of Katko.

“We also want as many parents as possible to attend the school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the district boardroom (today), to support Mr. Katko,” she said.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.