Aarion Gray, who announced his resignation in April as the principal of Logan Elementary in the Seaman school district, will become the principal of Randolph Elementary on Jan. 3 for Topeka Unified School District 501.
“I am excited to join Topeka Public Schools, and return to my love of public education,” Gray said in a statement sent to staff and parents on Thursday afternoon. “While I have enjoyed serving as an administrator in public health, serving in a diverse school district and serving the families of Randolph Elementary is an opportunity I look forward to.”
Members of the USD 501 board of education approved Gray’s hiring and a $91,181 annual salary during a business meeting on Thursday.
After serving as principal since 2011, Gray surprised Logan Elementary staff, parents and board of education members this past spring when he announced on April 26 that he would finish out his contract with Seaman USD 345, saying he was excited about “pursuing new opportunities and challenges.” He had also served as a school counselor at USD 345’s West Indianola and former Rochester Elementary schools.
According to information provided by USD 501, Gray is currently the director for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Children and Families section in the Bureau of Family Health.
Attempts to reach Gray on Thursday for further comment were unsuccessful.
Topeka USD 501 board members also approved the promotion of Melissa Wells-Martin as Randolph’s dean of students to assistant principal under Gray. After the end of the 2016-17 school year, board members approved the transfer of Karen Williams, Randolph’s current principal, as the principal of the district’s preschool center in the former Shaner Elementary School. That facility won’t open until August.
When asked whether staff and parents knew before the district announced on Thursday afternoon that a new principal was going to begin on Jan. 3 at Randolph, superintendent Tiffany Anderson would only say that it shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Williams has been training this past fall at the district’s preschool facilities at Sheldon Headstart and Pine Ridge Prep Academy in anticipation of her transfer to Shaner this summer.
“It was anticipated throughout the course of this year that we would be identifying a principal at some point early in this year,” she said. “If we had selected someone who was currently a principal elsewhere, they wouldn’t be starting mid-year.”
“Ms. Wells-Martin would be continuing the leadership with some support from Karen Williams,” Anderson continued. “If we can find and identify a principal or a teacher, which we have teachers starting mid-year as well, that’s available to start now and build relationships now, we most definitely will embrace that opportunity.”
Anderson said an estimated 20 certified teachers will also be starting their jobs or professional development training in January.
Williams became the principal at Randolph in July 2014, according to Kruger. Williams and district administrators came under fire from angry parents in early 2016 for the handling of a gas leak at Randolph Elementary in January of that year.
According to a March 2016 story in the Capital-Journal, parents’ concerns centered on whether students should have evacuated Randolph on Jan. 14 because of the leak and why school administrators didn’t inform them in writing about the issue, which Topeka Unified School District 501 said was a minor leak that didn’t warrant evacuation.
Williams reportedly indicated to staff and parents that Kansas Gas Service was contacted that day, but company’s records indicated otherwise.
In March of this year, Williams sent an email to Randolph parents involving an incident in which a student wasn’t injured but “additional support” was needed at the school, according to Misty Kruger, USD 501’s spokesperson. The “additional support” was never specified.
According to Shawnee County emergency dispatch, AMR responded to a medical call at the school on March 9 for a head injury, but the dispatcher was unsure whether anyone was taken to a hospital.
Kruger said there was no email or note sent home with students to Randolph parents but Williams sent an email to parents at 8:30 p.m. on the day of the incident, indicating that the “matter was contained and was communicated with those involved in the situation.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.