CLATSKANIE — About 200 people, including high school students who skipped early afternoon classes, were frustrated but marched peacefully through town Monday in support of longtime elementary school Principal Brad Thorud, who was not given a contract for next school year.
Some high school students voluntarily left school to join the march, and there were many young children whose parents pulled them out of class for the event.
Marchers sought the resignations of two school board members. But the event didn’t change the mind of Clatskanie Superintendent Lloyd Hartley, who asked the school board on Feb. 26 not to extend Thorud’s contract. He told The Daily News he “stands by his recommendation.”
“He’s such an amazing principal,” Jac Coe, a Clatskanie senior who organized the march, said of Thorud. “He does such an amazing job for the students of the elementary school. He’s the foundation of the high school: Kids from the elementary are going to be coming here, and he challenges them. If we lose him, it would be a true loss to this community.”
According to the Clatskanie Chief, the board decided to not renew Thorud’s contract in a 3-2 decision after Superintendent Hartley said Thorud wasn’t a good fit with the rest of the administration. Hartley also said Thorud threatened Middle/High School Principal Amy McNeil. The three school board members who voted to not renew Thorud’s contract were Walt Lovegren, Monty Akin and Judy Skirvin.
Hartley said Thorud’s alleged threat included the statement, “I am very concerned and scared for you,” and that two different attorneys recommended not to extend Thorud’s contract, according to The Chief. The board heard 30 minutes of public comment supporting the principal at that meeting as well.
Thorud has worked in the district as an educator since 2000. This is his third year as the elementary school principal.
The marchers moved quietly along their planned route, earning a few honks from drivers. Many held signs with statements like “We Stand with Throud,” “B-Rad like Brad” and “Students over Politics.” One patrol car from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office followed the group.
Among those making the mile-long march was Cheryl Stone, who said Thorud helped her granddaughter through a tough time.
“My granddaughter lost her father, and Brad made a point to check on her every day in class after that, and has ever since checked on her,” she said. “I think it’s a travesty that we might lose him, because he is the best thing for our kids.”
Terra Weaver brought her two kids, 8-year-old Peyton and 6-year-old Tristan, to the march and said Throud welcomed her kids despite arriving in Clatskanie “with a rough background.”
“(Thorud) has done absolutely wonderful things for my children, made them feel welcome in this community and I think that it was a horrible mistake for (the school board) to not renew his contract,” Weaver said.
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Aaron Hollowell said Throud has an attention for detail and truly cares about his school’s students.
“When (my son) was in kindergarten, in two weeks, (Thorud) learned every single kindergartner’s name,” he said. “He knows every kid by heart. He’s a great part of this community, and this community needs to stand by him.”
Clatskanie parent Katherine Willis, who is working on a petition to recall Skirvin and Lovegren from the school board, said Thorud was beloved by parents and kids alike.
“Principal Thorud has nothing but a glowing reputation with the community,” she said. “I can’t find a person that has dealt with him personally … that has nothing but phenomenal things to say about him. I think there’s a lot of shock, I think everyone’s confused about how this could occur.”
In an interview after the march, Superintendent Hartley said although he hasn’t changed his mind on the Thorud decision, he acknowledged the community’s right to organize and express their views.
“Where we’re at right now, there’s a process to everything,” he said. “Letters to the editor, letters to me, even a potential board recall. That’s all part of a process. We have to take one step at a time and let the process play itself out.”
Hartley also requested that no matter where someone might fall in the debate, everyone should treat each other with kindness and tact.
“It is my hope that as we move forward in this process that we treat people with the dignity and respect that should be afforded to all people, no matter what side or belief they have about any situation,” he said.
Hartley declined to go into specifics about personnel problems regarding why he asked for Thorud’s contract to end.
None of the three school board members who voted to not extend Thorud’s contract responded to emails or phone calls as of Monday afternoon.
Once the crowd reached the top of the final hill, Coe asked for 30 seconds of silence in honor of Thorud and then gave a speech to rally the group.
“This means so much to our community, to our school system and to our students,” he said. “This is truly what change is. We are the definition of change, and I can’t begin to thank you guys for what you have done today.”