In a scathing resignation letter, the Middleton School District’s outgoing superintendent describes a toxic environment of “nonsense” and “false rumors and Facebook garbage.”
And Josh Middleton blamed unnamed political foes.
“To allow elected officials to create and foster a hostile work environment, not follow board policy, engage in discriminatory actions and disrupt the board and me from doing our job is why I submit my resignation,” Middleton wrote in a June 6 letter to trustees, posted on the district’s website. “Sadly, bad behavior continues to be rewarded.”
While often cryptic, the one-page letter spotlights the ongoing turmoil in the Canyon County bedroom community school district.
The turbulence begins at the top. Middleton is stepping down effective June 30, but he is off the job now, using accumulated leave. The high school will have a new principal. Two new trustees have been appointed within the past three months, and two other trustees face a recall election.
Middleton doesn’t criticize past or current trustees by name. But by inference, he does weigh in on the district’s dysfunction.
Middleton thanks board Chairman Tim Winkle for hiring him in 2015, and he calls Aleisha McConkie “an absolute exemplary trustee.” Winkle and McConkie now face a recall election, perhaps as early as August.
Middleton also thanks former trustee Erica St. Michell for hiring him. St. Michell resigned from the board on April 26, citing “various personal reasons.”
Middleton also acknowledges he hasn’t worked with the board’s two newest members — Kirk Adams, appointed in March, and Derek Moore, appointed to succeed St. Michell.
“Your role is at the 30,000-foot level and not in the weeds,” Middleton wrote, addressing the new trustees by name. “Work and communicate with the superintendent regularly, especially before a board meeting. Those regular interactions build trust, knowledge and unity that will counteract false rumors and Facebook garbage.”
Middleton conspicuously does not mention the district’s fifth trustee, Vice Chair Marianne Blackwell.
Idaho Education News has requested comment from Blackwell, Winkle and McConkie.
On Tuesday, Adams said the letter’s sharp tone was not unexpected.
“Nobody was surprised, and all five of us decided to make it public today,” he said. “The battle lines were pretty well drawn before I got there.”
Middleton’s letter does not mention two recent controversies that have embroiled the district — including one that made national headlines.
In November, the district briefly placed 14 Middleton Heights Elementary School staffers on paid administrative leave, after photos of their Halloween costumes went viral on social media. Several staffers dressed in sombreros and fake mustaches. Others wore costumes depicting a U.S.-Mexican border wall. Within a week, Superintendent Middleton reinstated the teachers and aides.
Middleton also doesn’t mention the board’s controversial decision to not renew Middleton High School Principal Ben Merrill’s contract for 2019-20. That decision came at the end of the conclusion of a district investigation. Trustees concluded that Merrill did improve the school climate for students and parents — but they also said Merrill created a “dysfunctional system,” and rejected Merrill’s claim that Middleton and Assistant Superintendent Andy Horning had harassed him during the investigation.
However, Middleton urges the district to continue to address enrollment growth. Three times in 2018, the district sought bond issues to build a new elementary school. Three times voters said no — most recently in November, days after the Halloween costume story broke.
Middleton will leave for a superintendent’s job in Granite Falls, Wash. But in his resignation letter, Middleton expressed misgivings.
“I came to Middleton with the intention to establish deep roots. I chose to live in Middleton, to buy a house in Middleton, to have my two stepdaughters attend school in Middleton.”
As Superintendent Middleton prepares to leave the community of Middleton, trustees are heading into a time of transition. At Monday night’s meeting, Moore took the oath of office, trustees tapped former Middleton High administrator Brian Rothe to return to the school as Merrill’s successor, and trustees received guidance from Idaho School Boards Association staff on the search for a new superintendent.
“We’re moving forward,” Adams said.