Three appointed to Chatham School Board

Former teacher oversees superintendent who helped end her contract

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2008

When English teacher Melissa Cullum lost her job last spring, against the wishes of parents and students in Angoon, she never imagined becoming a supervisor for the superintendent who recommended her termination.

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"This is a rare chance," she said.

On Tuesday, Cullum joined Kimberly Strong and Fran Polumsky in appointments to fill three vacant seats on the Chatham School Board left empty by a November recall election. Voters removed three of five School Board members accused of incompetence and misconduct following months of community dissent and turmoil, including Cullum's termination.

"I want to focus on the positive action started by the new appointments," Cullum said.

"I cannot tell you how excited we all are," said Lillian Woodbury, former Angoon para-educator and city council member. Woodbury led Angoon's charge to recall longtime board member Ed Gamble and board President Irene Paul. Several members of the Advisory Schools Committee supported the action, along with a list of parents.

"There are no words to explain how great it feels to be were we are," she said. "Tables have ... turned. It was a victory."

With Cullum in Angoon, Strong will represent Klukwan, and Polumsky, who was involved with last year's recall, will represent Tenakee Springs on the multi-village school board headquartered in Angoon, 60 air miles west of Juneau. Meetings are often conducted via teleconference.

Gus Martinez and Lynette Heart, the remaining members of the Chatham School Board who represent Gustavus, appointed the trio to the board until the next School Board election in October.

Cullum said Martinez and Heart deserve a lot of credit for opening their decision-making to public comment.

"They listened to the concerns of the people," Cullum said.

Chatham Superintendent Vance Cortez-Rucker called the recall that ousted several of the board members who hired him "a strange event." Last year Cortez-Rucker recommended that the old board not renew Cullum's contract for varied reasons, from budget to personnel issues.

But, this week he said he was at the "beck and call" of the new board.

"The bottom line, they're my boss at the table," he said.

With the new board selected, Cortez-Rucker is hoping to get on with school district business. Critical issues need to be dealt with, he said. Angoon remains a low achiever on federal and state tests and remains in the lowest-ranked category under the No Child Left Behind Act.

"Something drastic must be done," he said.

Cullum is not troubled with becoming the boss of the man who recommended her contract not be renewed and said she has no concern working with or supervising Cortez-Rucker as a board member.

The first meeting for the new School Board members will come in February after they receive training by the Alaska Association of School Boards.

"I'm excited to work with a team of proactive board members," Cullum said.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or

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