LA CONNER — In a public attempt to heal wounds sending ripples throughout the La Conner community, La Conner School District Superintendent Whitney Meissner on Thursday released a statement she hoped would begin to build bridges between her and the two employee unions who have called for her to be replaced.
In an open letter sent to the community, the Skagit Valley Herald and published on the district’s Facebook page, Meissner said she accepted responsibility for the situation and remained committed to the district and community.
“I understand deeply that our staff members are the people who make the miracles happen for kids, and that your voice and contributions must be honored,” Meissner wrote in the letter. “I am passionate about public education and providing the best schooling experience possible for our students.”
Citing what they called poor communication, bullying and harassment, and weak leadership skills, members of the La Conner Education Association (LEA) and the Public School Employees (PSE) unions in June overwhelmingly cast votes of “no confidence” against Meissner and later asked for her dismissal as superintendent.
In her letter, Meissner said she understood the “pain, frustration and confusion” caused by behavior on her part that felt “clinical and sterile rather than warm and inclusive.”
“I understand that the difficult decisions that have been made have caused deep pain and grief amongst many in our district and community,” she wrote. “This is at least partly due to people who were affected by decisions feeling like they did not have voice, did not feel heard. I truly hear you now and understand the depth of the emotions you are experiencing.”
Meissner took the reins of the district in 2017, replacing Tim Bruce, who had led the district for more than 25 years.
“Change and transitions are not easy, they are rarely without pain, and I want to assure our community that I understand the true impact of the decisions that have been made,” Meissner said in her letter. “More than that, these recent experiences will shift my leadership style, decision making, and communication moving forward.”
At the school board’s July 30 retreat, board members — behind closed doors — met with representatives from both unions to discuss their concerns.
Earlier this week, Meissner told the Skagit Valley Herald, she met with union representatives for about two hours.
She sent the letter on Thursday, she said, after the board gave her permission to do so.
“Maybe this will be the first step to re-establish trust and confidence,” Meissner told the Herald. “My hope is the union leaders feel heard, that they are willing to continue the conversation with me and that they’d be willing to move forward in a mutually beneficial way.”
Especially as the beginning of the school year draws close, she said, she was hopeful all parties would be able to work together.
Even with Meissner’s statement, however, LEA co-president Suzann Keith said the relationship with Meissner was “beyond repair” and that the union still wished to see the district move forward with a new superintendent.
“Leadership from the La Conner Education Association and Public School Employees unions are pleased to hear that Dr. Meissner has finally acknowledged that her lack of positive leadership, negative interpersonal skills, and divisive management practices have brought substantial pain, frustration and setbacks to our school, students and community,” Keith said in a statement emailed to the Skagit Valley Herald. “However, expressing regret nine weeks after overwhelming votes of no confidence from two separate unions is far too little, far too late. Words without actions are meaningless.”