By Jackie Hassell: I am very worried about the transition of Bellview next school year as we move into our new building and experience larger class sizes and a smaller staff without having an experienced Bellview administrator at the helm.

Dear Ashland School Board and Superintendent Di Chiro:

I am writing to you in response to the disturbing news I heard Friday that Christine McCollom received a layoff notice for her position of principal at Bellview Elementary School. After thinking about this subject all weekend, I have decided that I cannot with good conscience remain silent on the subject. As both a parent and classified employee at Bellview, as well as the Bellview PTO president, I feel it would be a disservice to my fellow co-workers, school parents and Bellview students if I did not share with you my thoughts on why other cost-cutting options should be explored before Christine's layoff is finalized.

Having experienced Bellview as a parent under the excellent leadership of Juanita Fagan, I was a bit nervous when she retired and a new principal was brought into the school. Although I knew many people worked together on the selection committee to choose a new principal who would not only be able to head Bellview and maintain the academic excellence of the school, but who would also fit into the tight-knit parent and teacher community that comprises the school, I still was apprehensive. Within a few short weeks of working with Christine through PTO and as a parent volunteer, I realized that whatever fears I had were unfounded as Christine was a perfect fit for Bellview school.

Over the past three years, not only has she maintained the academic standards of Bellview, as state test results prove, she has also brought many of her own insights from being a classroom teacher that have made Bellview a very comfortable and nurturing place for students, parents and staff. She also made a lasting impact in my life by hiring me as an educational assistant despite my being a stay-at-home mom who had not been employed for 10 years. I will be forever grateful to her for helping me discover a new career that I hope to stay in for the rest of my working days.

Over the past two years, I have watched Christine run Bellview while also working on the bond to rebuild Bellview, working with the design committee to oversee the construction of the new school building, packing up and relocating the school to our temporary home at Ashland Middle School and, most recently, dealing with difficult staff cuts that have taken much thought and deliberation as well as time. Through all of this, I have never once heard Christine complain, despite having to do so much while also being pregnant. On the contrary, Christine has had a positive attitude and had led our school with professionalism, dignity and grace.

As Bellview is also losing our child development specialist, Diane Berry, to staffing cuts, I am very worried about the transition of Bellview next school year as we move into our new building and experience larger class sizes and a smaller staff without having an experienced Bellview administrator at the helm. Transitions are hard on students, and I believe having a change in principal will be a real detriment to the students and staff of Bellview.

While I realize that difficult decisions must be made in this economic climate, I would hope that you would take into consideration the best interests of the students of our school and find a way to keep Christine as the principal of Bellview. She has worked extraordinarily hard on making the new Bellview School a reality and it would be an absolute shame if she were not present to share in the completion of the building and our return to our school. She deserves the respect of your taking the time to explore every possible option, such as finding an alternate position for Michelle Zundel, that would provide the budget cuts you need while ensuring that a great principal is not sacrificed just to free up funds that could have been saved elsewhere, such as our school lunch program or club sports.

Although I do not know all the details concerning the superintendent's decision to lay off Christine, I feel that further discussion on the matter is desperately needed before a final decision is made by the board. I also do not understand why Christine was chosen for a layoff when she was hired at the same time as Walker Principal Patty Michiels. If Michelle Zundel's position as curriculum director was cut, why is she not returning to Walker to regain her former job as principal? I feel that the staff and parents at Bellview deserve an explanation from Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, preferably in either an all-staff or all-school meeting at Bellview as soon as possible. I am sure there are many rumors floating around the community, and I feel only Ms. Di Chiro can clear the air and relate to us all the reasons behind a decision that will impact our school community as a whole.

Jackie Hassell is an educational assistant at Bellview Elementary and the president of the Bellview PTO. A Rogue Valley native, she has lived in Ashland for 15 years.Editor's note: Juli Di Chiro is scheduled to meet with Bellview staff at 2 p.m. Wednesday. She said she will also work with the Bellview PTO and Site Council to schedule a parent meeting.