Mont Pleasant Middle School Principal Michael Bush has fallen gravely ill and will be out of work for the rest of the school year, sending a shock through a school that was undergoing huge changes this year.
Bush had to leave the school on Oct. 22. Last week, he told his supervisors that he would not be able to return this school year. Students were dismissed halfway through the day Wednesday so teachers could attend an emergency meeting on how the school would proceed without Bush.
This was supposed to be a critical year for the district’s only middle school. Not only is the school on the state’s Schools In Need Of Improvement list, but district officials had lofty goals for Mont Pleasant.
In June, former Superintendent John Yagielski closed the other middle school, Oneida, to save money. But he hoped the advanced programs at Oneida could be moved to Mont Pleasant along with the students.
“We could really create a new Mont Pleasant Middle School,” he said. “I see it as a positive.”
Mont Pleasant already offered some accelerated classes, including ninth-grade algebra for eighth-graders. Yagielski hoped more such classes could be offered, and wanted to expand the fine arts program.
The first step was to bring more students to the school, so that there would be enough interest in those classes. Mont Pleasant had been only half-full, and was brought up to near its limit this September.
Staff members were reassigned to the school as well, and were planning ways to offer high-school level classes at no increased cost to the district.
Losing the school principal just seven weeks into the school year was a blow. Patricia Paser, the assistant to the superintendent, took over immediately, and ran Wednesday’s emergency meeting. The school board plans to hire an interim principal to run the school for the rest of the year.
Spokeswoman Karen Corona said the school needs its own principal.
“Patty Paser is filling it,” she said. “She’s really, really busy working two jobs.”
She said Paser’s message to staff was simply to carry on.
“We’re moving forward,” she said. “That’s the plan.”
As for Bush, district officials have not released any details about his medical condition. But Corona said they don’t know whether he will be able to come back next September.
“We don’t know about his return,” she said. “Right now, we’re just wishing him well.”
In other school business, the school board took a step toward finding a new use for the closed Oneida school building.
Oneida is adjacent to Ellis Hospital, which has a severe parking shortage. The hospital has bought many properties to add to its parking, and officials expressed an interest in Oneida.
School officials negotiated a month-to-month lease of the school’s parking lot, at $75 per spot. The deal will get the district $4,500 this school year, board President Cathy Lewis said.
She was hoping for more.
“It seems awfully low,” she said. “I guess we’re still negotiating.”
As for the building itself, the board hasn’t even discussed selling it. Leaky ceilings and other structural problems plagued the school for years, but school officials said the cost of repairs wasn’t so high that the school had to be closed. The district simply saved money by not having to pay the extra staff needed to run the building.
Some school board members have suggested the building should be sold to Ellis, while others have said the district’s growing population might force them to use the building again in the future.
“We just haven’t talked about it,” Lewis said. “Nothing’s been decided about that.”