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February 11, 2014

Educators clarify principal’s administrative leave

Summerhill planned to leave Center Line schools

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

(Editor’s note: This story was updated May 8)

CENTER LINE — John Summerhill, who began as Center Line High School’s principal in June 2007 and has been on paid administrative leave since Jan. 17, 2014, recently said he was planning to leave CLHS at the end of the 2013-2014 school year anyway.

“I wanted to take a semester off. Basically I just got to a point where I wanted to do some different things. It was a tough decision,” Summerhill said. “I started to apply for some other jobs. Going into the year I had an assistant principal that moved positions. It opened up a spot. We brought in a retired administrator to fill in her for the school year.

“As a result, going into this last school year I kind of went into it (as) this was going to be my last year in Center Line,” Summerhill said. “We talked about different leadership at that point.”

With Summerhill taking the rest of the school year off, school officials hired “someone to fill my position so they can get things rolling for next year,” Summerhill said. “Students and family members didn’t want me to go.”

CLPS Superintendent Eve Kaltz knew Summerhill was planning to leave CLHS.

“He had talked to me about looking beyond Center Line,” Kaltz said. “His thoughts were he would find something at the end of the year. He was honest to let me know. I appreciated the fact he came to me. There was no breach of anything. He was honest with me about moving on.”

With Summerhill planning to vacate his position, CLPS had the task of finding new leadership at the high school. The thought was to bring in someone before the end of the school year.

“We needed to get new people in there,” Kaltz said. “The administrative leave was the kind of temporary holding until everything was kind of figured out.”

Currently, Ben Gurk is the principal, while interim principal Terry Piper helps him adjust to the role. Cassandra Conaton is the assistant principal.

Summerhill said he is working on moving forward.

“I had a great career. I’m just looking for other opportunities,” Summerhill said. “I wish everyone the best in Center Line. I hope they do well. There’s a lot of people I do miss.”

Stating it was a personnel issue, Center Line Public Schools officials wouldn’t originally disclose as to why Summerhill was placed on administrative leave earlier this year.

At a Feb. 10 school board meeting, a group of students and one parent addressed Kaltz and the board about the issue, asking for an explanation.

School officials, however, would not comment on the reasoning behind Summerhill’s leave, stating personnel issues could not be brought up at the open meeting. Nonetheless, a few CLHS students and graduates commented on the issue during the “citizens” portion toward the end of the meeting.

“Rumors are being spread about a man who cares about the students,” student Aaron Delikta said. “I think I am speaking for a lot of people in Center Line. He has done so much. He has always helped me (and) pushed me so hard.”

Delikta tearfully added he will graduate in four months, and he “won’t see one of the best people in my life” on stage to hand him his diploma.

“I am extremely disappointed in the lack of communication on the board and administration to kids and parents,” parent Paul Clark said. “It’s wrong (to) have a man’s reputation (dragged) through the mud.”

Clark said he hoped Summerhill’s administrative leave was “not based on personalities.”

“If we’ve got a problem with philosophy or direction, we can have a meeting of the minds,” Clark said. “We can work together. If you let people know what’s going on you would not have people in the dark about what happened.”

“I know it’s… difficult for you sitting at the high school and seeing this,” Board President Darrell Vickers said. “We don’t take these types of things lightly. It’s good to see the kids are practicing their right to stand up and speak.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.