Updated: June 26, 5:20 p.m.
The incoming principal at Flathead High School has stepped down just days before formally taking over after sending an email that appeared to be heavily plagiarized, according to Kalispell school officials.
John Blackman, a former school administrator in Idaho, rescinded his acceptance of the principal position in a letter to the school district dated June 21.
Blackman was hired earlier this month to take over the top administrative position at Flathead High School. He was slated to officially begin work July 1. The first day of school is Aug. 30.
Mark Flatau, superintendent of Kalispell Public Schools, informed school staff members of the situation in a June 23 email obtained by the Beacon.
According to Flatau, Blackman plagiarized an email he sent to Flathead staff introducing himself.
“As you know we initially offered the position to John Blackman and he accepted. However, after reviewing the introduction email that he sent out to all of you, we became aware that the majority of that email was plagiarized,” Flatau wrote in his email. “After much discussion and deliberation, it was decided that it would be best if John rescinded his acceptance of the offer and not take the position as Principal for Flathead.”
Flatau responded to a public records request from the Beacon by sending Blackman’s introductory email, Blackman’s letter rescinding his acceptance and Flatau’s email to staff.
“In an effort for full disclosure and providing our community as much factual information on this matter here are the documents you requested,” Flatau wrote in an email.
»»» Click here to view documents provided by Flatau.
In an email to the Beacon, Blackman responded to a request for comment by stating, “I have rescinded my acceptance of the principal position at Flathead High School.”
Blackman did not respond to an additional request to elaborate or address the plagiarism allegations.
After receiving multiple media inquiries, Flatau issued a statement Monday afternoon on behalf of the school district:
“We will be working diligently to develop the best plan to meet the needs of Flathead High School and continue the strong leadership it has experienced the past many years,” Flatau stated.
Flatau said the district is working on an interim plan that could include hiring an interim principal who would fill the position for the upcoming 2017-18 academic year while a new search effort is underway. The new search could begin in early January 2018, according to a memo attached to the school board agenda.
“By going this route, it will allow us to open this position early and ensure that we have a strong applicant pool,” Flatau stated. “The administrative team and staff at Flathead High School are experienced and will certainly be ready for the upcoming school year.”
Flatau said in his email to staff that the hiring committee discussed various options and unanimously decided to offer the position to the committee’s second choice, Tres Genger, principal at Lindbergh High School in Renton, Washington.
“He genuinely considered the offer and thanked us for the opportunity but did turn it down today,” Flatau said.
“The real sticking point was his wife not having a job. She is a secondary math teacher and of course I could not guarantee immediate employment.”
The Kalispell Public Schools board of trustees is scheduled to review the proposals at its Tuesday night meeting. The regularly scheduled meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the middle school.
“I know that this is a stressful time for all. Please know that we are committed to finding the best possible person for this critical position,” Flatau said in his email to staff.
After an application and interview process, a 16-person committee selected Blackman to replace Peter Fusaro, who left after 20 years at the high school, including 11 as principal. Fusaro stepped down to fill a new position at Flathead Valley Community College as director of the Trades and Industrial Arts Department.
According to the Times-News in Twins Falls, Idaho, Blackman informed the Blaine County School District that he was resigning as assistant superintendent in late June to take over as principal in Kalispell.
“John is known and admired by generations of families in Blaine County, first as an art teacher and football coach, then as an administrator and finally as the assistant superintendent,” Blaine County School District Superintendent Gwen Carol Holmes said in a statement published June 6 in the Times-News.
“I am grateful to him for his public service to the children of Blaine County, whom he cares so deeply about. We should all be as committed to the success of the students of this district as he has been.”
In 2001, Blackman became the vice principal at Wood River High School in Hailey before taking over as principal in 2007. In 2010, he was named assistant superintendent of the school district.
Blackman emerged as the top choice out of four finalists during the Flathead principal search. The other three finalists were Genger; Michele Paine, current assistant principal at Flathead; and Peter Hamilton Sr., the principal at Cut Bank High School.
Flathead is in the early stages of a sizable $19 million renovation project. The construction is expected to last roughly one-and-a-half years in a section of the school.