One school, two principals

Plan for two principals concerns Lake Harriet parents

The upper campus of Lake Harriet Community School, located in the Fulton neighborhood. Credit: File photo

FULTON — In an arrangement that’s unique among district schools, Lake Harriet Community School will have two principals next school year.

From one perspective, the move simply makes official an informal division of administrative powers at the dual-campus school. From another, it’s a troubling step toward splitting the K-8 school in two.

Lead Principal Mary Rynchek keeps an office at the school’s upper campus in Fulton. When Rynchek retires at the end of this school year, she’ll take her title with her.

Her successor will simply be “principal,” sharing that title with Jan Parrish. Parrish, stationed at the lower campus in Linden Hills, will no longer be called “principal on special assignment,” a designation she said led to confusion among staff members and parents.

“When I first came [to Lake Harriet in 2011], if there was an issue with behavior or an issue of communicating with a teacher, they didn’t know if they should come to me, who was on site, or go to the lead principal at upper campus, who didn’t have the background information [on the lower campus issue],” Parrish said.

Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle said the shift also reflected the expanded role Parrish took on this year while overseeing construction at the lower campus, where an expansion project is due for completion in August.

“At some point, [Rynchek] could not be the principal for two campuses and manage the construction,” Battle explained. “Jan took on more of a leadership role because of the construction so parents and students would know who their principal was, because there were so many questions related to that construction.”

Rynchek said she and Parrish essentially acted as the top administrators of their respective campuses this school year. But Lake Harriet Site Council Co-chair Caroline Cochran said that arrangement wasn’t clear to many parents who were surveyed in April via email.

Cochran said more than half of the 600 households to receive the email responded to the survey, and the results showed one-third of respondents didn’t understand the power-sharing arrangement already in place at Lake Harriet. More than 95 percent said they wanted the two campuses to remain one school with one principal in charge.

Rynchek said that message came through loud and clear during meetings with parents. Other than the change in two administrators’ titles, it will be business as usual at Lake Harriet next year.

“It’s one school, one site council, one website,” she said. “Everything is one school.”

Still, Rhonda Bonnabeau, the parent of two Lake Harriet students, said she feared the two campuses could grow apart over time, especially if the two principals don’t share the same vision for the school.

“How many companies do you know that have two CEOs?” Bonnabeau asked. “That changes things. That changes the dynamics.”

Cochran said parent concerns stem from earlier in the school year, when the site council learned the district was considering shifting Lake Harriet to a paired school model, like Hale and Field community schools in South Minneapolis. Battle acknowledged that plan had been considered, but said she “did not pursue” it when it became clear parents were against the change.

Parrish could know who her new co-principal is as soon as mid-May, by which time Battle said she planned to select Rynchek’s replacement.

Rynchek is retiring after a total of 14 years at Lake Harriet, including time spent as a teacher and intern principal. She has led the school since former principal Marsha Seltz retired in 2008.

The lower campus expansion project, due to be completed by August, is intended to give both school sites a bit of breathing room. Third grade classes will be moved from the crowded upper campus to the lower campus, bringing the lower campus enrollment to an estimated 530 students next fall.

Rynchek said next fall’s upper campus enrollment could top 640 students, bringing Lake Harriet’s total enrollment to about 1,200 students. That makes it one of the largest K-8 schools in the city.