Bellview parents and staff members said Monday they are glad McCollom will return.

Bellview Elementary School Principal Michelle Zundel will replace Jeff Schlecht as principal at Ashland High School upon his retirement June 30, and former Bellview Principal Christine McCollom will return to her position, the district announced Saturday.

Last spring, in a controversial process that involved drawing lots, McCollom was laid off because of districtwide budget cuts. Zundel, a senior administrator, was selected to serve as Bellview's principal.

Dozens of district parents lobbied the School Board to retain McCollom, but the board, following the superintendent's recommendations, voted to replace McCollom with Zundel.

Bellview parents and staff members said Monday they are glad McCollom will return.

"I think Michelle has done a fantastic job, but we're also pleased to welcome Christine back," said Liz Dunn, an educational assistant at Bellview whose two children attend the school. "She's like one of the family."

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said she hopes the transition will go smoothly for Bellview, which has seen a number of changes in recent years.

"I feel badly about Bellview, because I'm sure they feel a little bit like they've been in the middle of a ping pong game in some ways," she said.

District policy required that Di Chiro hire qualified administrators from within the district or those who had been recently laid off, to fill the principal positions, she said.

"Fortunately, we had talented people right down the line that could do this," she said.

Because of her administrative background, Zundel was best suited to serve as principal at Ashland High School, Di Chiro said.

"She is the only administrator who I have who has had a lot of secondary experience, as a high school teacher and as an assistant principal at the high school," she said. "I think she'll be a very good match for this job."

McCollom was the first administrator on the district's list of employees who had been laid off, and was well qualified to fill the position at Bellview, having already served as principal there, Di Chiro said.

"Laying off Christine was not anything any of us would have liked to have done, so I'm very pleased that she can return to that position," she said.

Zundel, a district administrator for 15 years, previously served as an assistant principal at the high school, as principal of Walker Elementary School and as the district's director of educational services.

She made national news in December when she removed a giving tree at Bellview after a family complained that it was a religious symbol. When hundreds of parents and community members spoke out against her decision, she brought it back.

She served as principal during a tumultuous year that included a move into a remodeled building on Tolman Creek Road and an evacuation due to the Siskiyou Fire.

Zundel said she hopes to complete several projects at Bellview, such as planting a school garden, before the end of June.

"I love the Bellview community and I will be going 110 percent between now and the end of the year to bring conclusion to what we started," she said.

Zundel is also eager to return to the high school, she said.

"I am honored to go to Ashland High School because it's such a high performing school and I'm really hoping to continue the excellence there," she said.

McCollom served as principal at Bellview for three years. This school year she was hired as principal of Bunker Hill Elementary School in the Coos Bay School District.

McCollom said she is excited to return to Bellview.

"I do think that in the end, it is working out," she said. "I just feel like it's the place where I belong."

Schlecht, 58, has served as Ashland High School's principal for eight years. Previously he was an associate principal at the high school and principal at Bellview Elementary School.

He has been an educator for 30 years.

He will help Zundel transition into her new position and Zundel will do likewise with McCollom.

"With all the changes we've been through in the district, I'm hoping this can go smoothly and we can have a nice transition at both schools," Di Chiro said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.