Popular principal demoted

The demotion of a popular Seattle elementary school principal is among several personnel changes the Seattle Public School District will see next year.

Geri Hamai, principal at Bryant Elementary, was notified Tuesday she would not receive tenure and was being offered a subordinate position in the district.

Her demotion is the first in the district since four other principals suffered the same fate in May 2000. Hamai said she plans to challenge the decision and will not accept a lesser position.

Elsewhere in the district, an assistant principal has also been asked to take a subordinate position and the jobs of four tenured teachers will be terminated.

District spokeswoman Lynn Steinberg said she could not comment on the personnel actions, but said Superintendent Joseph Olchefske is committed to building a strong core of principals.

"We have a mission in this district of assuring our students reach high academic standards and there is no one more important than a principal in setting the tone for that school and improving the instructional leadership," she said.

No replacement has been named for Hamai.

At Bryant yesterday afternoon, many parents and teachers were stunned by the district's announcement to remove Hamai.

"Essentially, this is a very stable, happy school. It functions very well," said the school's PTSA co-president Mary Stevens. Gail Rudee, another parent, said the district "made a terrible mistake."

"I really enjoyed working with her," she said. "She was helpful and willing to listen. I'm upset that's the decision. I think she works very hard and was very sensitive to the kids and community."

After school yesterday, Hamai informed the teachers of the district's decision.

Several had tears in their eyes as they left the room.

"We've been in a state of disbelief," said third-grade teacher Susan Hunter. "This is a school where she's highly respected for her leadership skills. It's a blow to the students, staff and parents."

Hamai, a 22-year educator, and principal at Bryant the past 2½ years, said she was told she was being demoted for her "communication skills" and "instructional leadership."

She said she had some conflict with parents when she first became principal and, in response, changed her style and went to a communications coach, but still didn't meet the district's goals.

Hamai said she felt the criticism of her instructional leadership stemmed from an academic achievement plan she was asked to re-write several times. She said she never received advice on how to improve in that area.

The news didn't come as a complete surprise to Hamai, because she said, she and her school director, who works with principals, had not seen eye-to-eye. "I feel like there was a hostile environment for me from the beginning," Hamai said. "Right now, I feel disappointed."

In unrelated moves, four new elementary principals have been hired: Greg Imel at Dunlap; Kaaren Andrews at Blaine; Alex Coberly at Whittier; and Sylvia Hayden at Lawton.