CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County school board members voted unanimously Thursday to hire former Stonewall Jackson Middle School principal George Aulenbacher as principal at George Washington High School.
Aulenbacher's appointment begins June 13. He'll succeed Melissa Ruddle, who will take over this summer as assistant superintendent in charge of the county's middle schools.
Aulenbacher was one of five Kanawha principals who agreed to step down in the spring of 2010 so his former school could receive federal School Improvement Grant money. Stonewall is set to receive nearly $768,000 in SIG money.
The state identified Stonewall and the other four schools -- Cedar Grove Middle, Malden Elementary School, Riverside High School and East Bank Middle School -- as among 33 of the state's lowest-performing schools. In order to receive the money, each school's principal agreed to leave.
Aulenbacher's departure was particularly controversial, as he received a national Milken Educator Award -- sometimes referred to as the "Oscar for teaching" -- in 2007.
He has acted as a "transformational specialist" -- a job paid for using SIG money. He's responsible, along with former Riverside High principal Paula Potter, to lead efforts to help turn around the five schools.
Still, school board member Bill Raglin questioned why Aulenbacher was the only qualified person who applied for the position. George Washington is highly regarded for academics and athletics among West Virginia high schools, he said. Raglin believes that a perception existed -- accurate or not -- that the job wasn't really open to others who might have wanted to apply. He said he doesn't want Kanawha County Schools to be perceived as anything less than an equal opportunity employer.
"That's no image that's coming ... out of [the] central office," Superintendent Ron Duerring said.
In recent years, fewer candidates have applied for high school principal jobs, Duerring said. The job is often challenging, with long hours and inadequate compensation, board member Becky Jordon said.
"I can't help it that I can't force people to apply for jobs," Duerring said, adding that there are "a lot of influences out there in the system that are beyond your control."
Also Thursday, several parents, students and teachers from Capital High School spoke out or supported speakers who asked that the East Academy alternative school be moved off Capital's campus.
"We are tired of the stigma of being known as the thug school in Kanawha County," said Capital sophomore C.J. Harvey, the student body secretary.
East Academy is a night-school program for students with behavioral problems, excessive truancy or for those who faced other circumstances that led school officials to remove them from their home school.
Last month, Duerring stopped plans that could have made East Academy a day school. Parents, teachers and Capital Principal Clinton Giles had voiced strong opposition to any change.
William Dorsey, Capital's faculty senate president, said East Academy should be given a chance "to flourish and grow" to meet the needs of its students, but not at the expense of Capital High's students.