Special Report: A School District Divided
After the reassignment of Armstrong High School Principal David Dahl this spring, a group of community members are pushing for a state audit of Robbinsdale Area Schools. They are quickly gathering the signatures required to try to trigger a state audit.
Reassignment of David Dahl
A meeting at Armstrong High School on March 4, 2019 let staff members know that David Dahl, who had been principal for 17 years and teaching at the school for longer than that, would be reassigned to another position next school year.
People reacted by showing up to protest at a school board meeting that night. Students started a petition on change.org to save Dahl’s position that collected up to 3,000 signatures in 36 hours.
The reassignment of Dahl was the canary in the coal mine that something was wrong in the district.
“If it can happen to David Dahl, who has been there for 39 years, then it could happen to anybody,” said Kelly Guncheon, an Armstrong parent.
Guncheon says after he started asking questions in listening sessions and meetings, he started getting contacted by other concerned community members.
“I felt like the superintendent wasn’t being honest with us and that really concerned me,” said Guncheon. “I started getting phone calls and letters to my house all indicating a level of discontent in the district.”
Guncheon started a Facebook Page and later a paper petition drive for a state audit that he hopes will dive deeper than an annual district audit.
“What we’re asking the state auditor’s office to do is a forensic audit, dealing with fiscal management or mismanagement of the district,” said Guncheon.
Grievances against the district are varied, but most center around two things, finance and the superintendent’s hiring practices.
“It’s not personal against any of them,” said Guncheon. “It’s the hiring process. How is it conducted? How is it fair? It just so happens that everybody that has been hired is a friend of his and coming from another state.”
Jenkins Responds to Questions
We sat down with Dr. Carlton Jenkins for more than 30 minutes, asking him many of these questions.
“I welcome anybody to come in and look at our practices,” said Jenkins. “Individuals will see that we are very consistent in terms of what we are doing.”
Jenkins says auditors won’t find anything financially amiss and that the district is independently audited each year. As far as hiring practices, the school board hired an outside firm to investigate hiring practices back in March. The summary statement of the investigation is supposed to be read at the June 17 board meeting when it will become public record.
But Jenkins says the results show that the firm did not find any preferential treatment on his part.
“I am always going to be looking at talent that complements our district,” said Jenkins. “When you look at it collectively, I’ve hired more than 41 people in the district and this investigation covered 14 that were frankly primarily African-American. So I question the motivation behind that.”
As for questions about the reassignment of David Dahl, there’s still not a clear answer.
“Mr. Dahl is a fine employee of ours and the reassignment is part of what we do each year,” said Jenkins.
The district says the move was not disciplinary.
We have reached out to David Dahl for more clarity. He declined an interview. Dahl’s replacement has not been named, but is supposed to start the job July 1.
Armstrong High School students walked out of school on May 31. Many could be heard chanting support of Dahl or lack of support in Jenkins. The students who came first to the microphone talked about a need for a more diverse teaching staff.
But the students who organized the walkout say the protest was about more.
“It was not about the principal. It wasn’t about the diverse teachers. It was about more staffing and more safety protocols,” said Toni Caston, who will be a junior in this next school year. “I am not quitting. I am not stopping until my teacher’s voices are heard, until our voices are heard. Because they need to be heard. It’s not fair.”
Students mentioned school problems that range from a lack of teacher support, a lack of custodians, lack of staff members, lack of security, and more.
A Push for Clarity
“My stance is that we’ve fractured a community,” said Dean Larsen, an Armstrong Teacher. “We are struggling as a school and from my perspective as a teacher, we have students and staff and parents who are divided.”
Larsen teaches social students at Armstrong. He won’t take a stance on the need for the audit, but will speak to the discord within the Armstrong community. Larsen says a perhaps an audit will bring clarity to the situation for all.
“Right now with the speculation, one side believes this and one side believes this. Where is the truth within what is believed on both sides?” said Larsen.
Every side believes a push for more clarity will help the situation and help move the district forward.
“The best possible result is we find nothing wrong,” said Kelly Guncheon, petition organizer. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“I do know at the end of the day, a lie and a truth cannot coexist,” said Jenkins. “Character, where I come from, wins out.
As of Thursday, June 13, the petition organizers have gathered around 2,000 signatures. They hope to have 2,200 signatures within the next week. To view the petition, click here.
If the petition gets enough signatures it will first be turned into the county clerk’s office for review before it is sent to the state auditor’s office. That office will get to meet with petition organizers before determining the scope of the audit. The state audit, if it comes to fruition, will be paid for by the school district. To see further information on the petition’s timeline click here.