Parents and teachers at an Arizona charter school say they’ve been told former Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder will be the new principal of their elementary school.
Schroeder, who served as the head of Wyoming’s schools in 2022, is taking over the North Phoenix school in the wake of some controversy there.
Parents and teachers say they were told by the board Schroeder would be their replacement, but the board has not confirmed this officially.
The principals said they weren’t told why they were being fired.
“Our Corporate Board made the decision not to renew the contracts for the co-administrators in favor of moving forward with a single administrator, which is consistent with other schools of our size,” the board said in a statement about the firings.
Parents Want Information
Parents and students protested outside the school Tuesday.
Mary Zielinski, parent of a preschooler at the school, told Cowboy State Daily the Benchmark parent teacher organization has requested a town hall from the corporate board to learn about Schroeder’s plans, but the request hasn’t yet been answered.
She questions how Schroeder found out about the job and was chosen to head the roughly 500-student school, which she said has no particular ideological or political leanings and still has students say the “Pledge of Allegiance.”
When Cowboy State Daily spoke with Schroeder in late 2022, he said he was considering entering pastoral ministry after his term expired.
“The parents here are very involved and not as conservative,” Zielinski said. “Why not go to an organization that aligns with his beliefs?”
Schroeder declined to comment.
Who Is Schroeder?
After serving as headmaster of a private Christian school in Cody, Schroeder was one of three candidates selected by the Wyoming Republican Party to replace Jillian Balow in early 2022.
Gov. Mark Gordon then selected Schroeder for the job, but not before a short-lived lawsuit was filed over the way the state GOP selected the candidates.
Schroeder lost his Republican primary bid, which was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, to Superintendent of Public Instruction Megan Degenfelder in August 2022 by a small margin.
Zielinski said she found the news about the sacking of the principals “gut-wrenching.”
One had been with the school for 20 years. She said the abrupt nature of the firings is leading teachers at the school to question their job security.
“I was just shocked,” she said. “How do they do something like this?”
Zielinski and other parents also have concerns about what political direction Schroeder may take the curricula of the school, which she describes as being fairly standard.
“I think the good thing about this school is they have kept politics out. The new person they plan to bring in doesn’t necessarily seem ideal (or) fit my family ideals,” parent Merritt Trier told CBS.
Holding centrist political views herself, Zielinski wonders if Schroeder will send the school in a conservative bent. She said the school’s LGBTQ parents have similar concerns.
“I was very surprised based on how conservative he is,” she said. “What are they trying to do here?”
The parents have started a petition to get the board to reverse its decision, signed by more than 1,000 people since Tuesday.
Prior to and during his roughly 10 months as state superintendent, Schroeder expressed strong conservative views.
He said elements of critical race theory are being taught in Wyoming schools, which he firmly opposes, and said students were being exposed to inappropriate content in their school libraries.
Last fall, he hosted a “Stop the Sexualization of Our Children” political event in Cheyenne featuring speakers from all around the country, warning of the dangers that some of the books in school libraries can pose. The event was attended by some of the most conservative state legislators and Wyoming Republican Party Chair Frank Eathorne.
A lawsuit was filed against Schroeder and the Wyoming Department of Education in March regarding its handling of public records requests made about the event, which was revealed to have been partially paid for with public money.
Zielinski said also not helping with the optics of the Schroeder transition is that two female co-principals are being replaced by one white man.
“What kind of person can come into this role and not feel guilty or bad?” she questioned.
Zielinski, whose child will be in kindergarten next year, said the charter school environment in Phoenix is very competitive, with some schools already booked up for next year.
She said students who attend preschool at Benchmark get a preference when applying to attend kindergarten at the school. Zielinski wants to keep her child there through sixth grade, but now has doubts whether she should do that.
“I want them there all six years, but now I’m not so sure knowing this is going to be the principal,” she said. “I’m trying to hold back that judgment, but how can you come into a role like this?”
Zielinski said Schroeder is scheduled to take over the school about a week before its last day in mid-May.