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Schmitt hired as Dolores interim principal

Current dean will take secondary position conditionally, pending results of ongoing litigation
Justin Schmitt, currently the secondary dean for the Dolores School District Re-4A, has been hired as principal of the secondary school, as long as he is not found guilty of anything more than a misdemeanor in a California lawsuit he has been named as a defendant.

The Dolores school board voted April 9 to hire Justin Schmitt as interim principal of the secondary school, as long as he meets certain conditions.

The secondary principal position was vacated Oct. 1, after former Principal Jen Hufman resigned – district Superintendent Lis Richard has been serving as interim principal since then.

Schmitt, currently the dean of high school students for the past year, is presently one of 11 defendants named in an embezzlement lawsuit out in California, and so the board approved his hiring on the condition that once the legal situation is resolved, he cannot have anything more than a misdemeanor.

Schmitt has since accepted the offer.

“I believe that the path the School Board and Superintendent Richard have set us on is the right one and I am humbled by the opportunity I have been given to lead the Dolores Middle School and High School down that path,” he told The Journal. “We have an amazing team of educators that I feel privileged to be able to work alongside.”

His first day on the job is July 1, and it will remain “interim” until the legal issues are all resolved, according to Lis Richard, superintendent of the Dolores School District Re-4A.

The board vote at the April 9 meeting was 3-1, with board member Maegan Crowley as the lone dissenting vote. Board member Clay Tallmadge was absent.

“The board’s decision to hire him as interim principal with a conditional contract was in response to two things: 1) an overwhelming endorsement and recommendation of the selection committee and 2) our desire to protect the district,” Board President Kay Phelps told The Journal. “Among the qualities listed by the selection committee were ‘solution oriented,’ ‘humble,’ ‘consistent,’ ‘excellent rapport with students and staff,’ ‘respected,’ ‘effective,’ ‘highly qualified,’ ‘collaborative,’ ‘approachable,’ ‘genuine,’ and ‘distance learning savvy.’”

She added that the hiring committee’s second choice candidate for the job had accepted a position elsewhere, and that Schmitt had earned the trust of many community and staff members.

Schmitt began working as the secondary dean of students in August, about a month before Hufman announced her resignation. He threw his name in for the principal position after that, but rescinded it shortly thereafter.

The pending litigation he faces has two alleged ringleaders – Sean McManus and Jason Schrock – who opened 19 online charter schools and allegedly used them to embezzle $50 million from the state of California, according to a statement released by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.

The other nine defendants worked under McManus and Schrock at the different charter schools, collectively known as the A3 Charter School network. Schmitt is listed as a charter school employee in the district attorney’s statement, and according to a motion filed by his attorneys, he worked for and held leadership positions in online charter schools for several years, including in what would ultimately be called “Valiant Academy,” purchased by A3 in 2017.

He faces about a dozen criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit a crime and misappropriation of public money, according to the indictment. A felony jury trial for the case is currently scheduled for July 28, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office website.

Schmitt declined to comment on the pending litigation, but said that it would hopefully resolve soon.

Since October, Dolores Superintendent Lis Richard has been filling in as interim principal on top of her superintendent duties.

In February, the Dolores school board approved the official composition of the principal hiring committee: the committee would include the district superintendent, the elementary school principal, a secondary administrative representative, a district office human resources representative, two secondary teachers (determined by a lottery drawing), and two secondary parents (also determined by a lottery drawing).

According to Richard, the committee interviewed a total of eight candidates. Of the others interviewed, three were from Colorado and the rest from out of state, Richard said.

“Should Mr. Schmitt become the secondary principal, the committee believed he would offer the secondary staff and students the consistency and leadership the school needs,” Richard said in an update posted on the Re-4A website. “He is a local ‘hometown’ man who is a graduate of Dolores. He knows the community and has strong relationships with staff and students. He leads with compassion and strength as a knowledgeable educator.”

If he does not meet the “conditions set” (if he is found guilty of anything more than a misdemeanor), his position will be “terminated,” the update states.

Richard told The Journal that staff had consulted with legal counsel on the matter to make sure the district is proceeding appropriately.

“I think it is fair to mention that a misdemeanor is not a disqualifier for licensure and I still stand by that Mr. Schmitt did nothing illegal and this resolution his legal team is seeking is really for his family’s sake and the district’s in order to speed this along and get this behind us,” she said.

Schmitt said that he has been grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with the school district and Dolores community in his position as dean.

“Working as a dean of students has allowed me to get to know the students and the staff and to learn about their goals for the future of our school,” he said. “I was also able to spend time looking at student data and start to develop a gameplan for improving performance in the areas in need of improvement and to continue to strengthen performance in the areas where we are already doing well.”