School board praises superintendent while accepting resignation

The Juneau School Board “regretfully” accepted Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich’s resignation at a special meeting Tuesday night. Board members praised his work and condemned some community critics.

Gelbrich Saddler

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich and School Board President Sally Saddler. (File photo/KTOO)

School board Vice President Sean O’Brien said he was disheartened at how the community sometimes treated Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich.

“I am embarrassed as a community member to see the degree of personal attacks, unfounded, and mischaracterizations of an individual who is truly so remarkable,” he said.

O’Brien said Gelbrich was criticized in various venues, including school board meetings, for not being invested in the community. He said Gelbrich always took the high road.

Board member Lisa Worl referred to this as Gelbrich’s constant state of professionalism.

“I guess it’s unimaginable to me – not unimaginable, but very impressive. It’s one thing to have a disagreement on a professional level, but it’s another to be taken to task and given personal attacks on one’s character, and that’s really unfortunate and I appreciate your calm and your professionalism on all levels.”

Worl said criticism increased during recent contract negotiations between the district and teachers union. At a board meeting last October, a Juneau teacher said Gelbrich was not a permanent or voting member of the community. Later that same meeting, Gelbrich clarified that he is indeed both.

Worl said, contrary to what community members may have thought, Gelbrich made an effort to become part of the community.

“You have become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, of the Rotary, I think, the Alaska Native Brotherhood,” Worl said to Gelbrich at Tuesday’s meeting.

Gelbrich said being criticized is part of public service, but emphasized the warmth of Juneau, calling it “a community that embraces.”

“There are many, many people in this community and in this school district who have welcomed me into their homes and into their lives and into their families and I’ll be eternally grateful. These are lifelong friends that I’ll have forever,” he said.

Gelbrich joined the Juneau school district as superintendent in 2009. His current contract expires in June 2016.

Gelbrich turned in his letter of resignation two weeks ago, citing “personal and private reasons,” and wrote he did not yet have another job. Since January, Gelbrich was passed up for superintendent jobs in Montana and Idaho. The board clarified that he will not be getting a severance package when he leaves in July.

Gelbrich says he’s proud of the work he’s done with the board, administration and teachers who’ve made the effort to improve education.

School board member Destiny Sargeant praised Gelbrich for his leadership.

“It’s with regret that I will vote to accept your resignation. I think that it’s nothing short of a miracle that with 17 percent budget cuts, we have still managed in spite of it,” Sargeant said. 

Despite consecutive years of budget reductions, the district’s graduation rate has improved during Gelbrich’s term.

With no one from the public offering comment, the board approved the resignation 6-1. Board president Sally Saddler voted no. She said Juneau is letting the best thing that’s ever happened to its students get away.