Symyrozum-Watt out as PHPS Supt.
Former Supt. says she hasn’t heard from the division since early February
Tuesday, Apr 18, 2017 06:00 am
Pembina Hills Public Schools is looking for a new superintendent and will not renew Colleen Symyrozum-Watt’s five-year contract when it expires July 31.
In a release issued April 13, board chair Jennifer Tuininga said a number of allegations of bullying and harassment of staff involving Symyrozum-Watt were brought to her attention Jan. 27. That prompted a special in-camera, all-day meeting Feb. 1 at the offices of the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) in Edmonton where trustees passed a motion to form an ad-hoc sub-committee consisting of Tuininga and Annette Bokenfohr.
The committee was authorized to take a number of actions, such as issuing a notice of suspension to Symyrozum-Watt, retaining legal counsel and making complaints to authorities like the registrar under the Alberta School Act
Tuininga said the board needed to bring forward a motion at its Feb. 8 meeting in order to renew Symyrozum-Watt’s contract, but declined.
“The board chose not to do so, which effectively was a decision to not renew,” she said.
Tuininga would not speak to the allegations, noting that because this is a personnel matter, they won’t say anything further.
“We need to proceed cautiously and professionally in order to ensure Pembina Hills isn’t placed under undue risk,” she said.
“We’ve been working very closely with legal counsel, and so we have to make sure that this process is fair and thorough.”
In an e-mail, Symyrozum-Watt said trustees have not communicated with her about her contract other than a motion made during a Jan. 27 meeting where they planned to extend it.
“My primary reaction to this announcement is deep disappointment in the investigation process given what’s at stake for the school division and for my career,” Symyrozum-Watt said.
She added that neither the board or the sub-committee had spoken to her since Feb. 2, when she was given notice that she was suspended. They did not tell her who made the allegation, or what it entailed.
“This information was withheld unduly long,” she said, noting that trustees have decided to recruit a new superintendent before she even had a chance to respond to the allegations.
Symyrozum-Watt said she would continue to co-operate with the investigation.
“I am proud that together with many outstanding division staff, we have built a resilient Pembina Hills school system across our communities,” she said.
“In the course of this challenging work, some staff will likely have disagreed with certain decisions I have made, or with how I have reacted in any given situation. In fact, that is probable given the complexity of a superintendent’s role.
“But that is why the board’s investigation should have been balanced and thorough, hearing all sides fairly. I don’t believe it has been.”
Under these circumstances, Symyrozum-Watt said she will not comment further about the investigation, the allegations or the outcome.
“The board is in control and appears to have acted prematurely and punitively,” she said.
She added the situation could have been handled differently and more fairly, limiting the significant financial costs to the division and herself.
Following an in-camera discussion at the April 12 board meeting in Barrhead, trustees passed a motion to issue a request for proposals from recruitment firms to search for a new superintendent.
The hope is to have a new superintendent in place by this spring, Tuininga indicated.
“The board is committed to ensuring that everyone in the division has the support and leadership they need.
“Having a superintendent in place this August before the beginning of the new school year is in the best interests of our communities, students and staff.”
It is not clear if Symyrozum-Watt is due severance or will simply be paid up to the end of her contract.
When asked about it, Tuininga said the investigation is ongoing and she couldn’t speculate further.
When asked if Symyrozum-Watt was entitled to some form payment if she wasn’t under investigation, Tuininga said she couldn’t speak to anything in a personnel contract.
According to Pembina Hills’ audited financial statements for 2015-2016, Symyrozum-Watt was paid $206,988 that year and received $36,522 in benefits.
Until a new superintendent is recruited, assistant Supt. of employee services and facilities and transportation David Garbutt will continue as acting superintendent.