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Tom Blakely

Tom Blakely

Former Sentinel High School principal Tom Blakely has resigned from the Missoula County Public Schools district, after being placed on leave for an undisclosed incident involving another administrator.

“Blakely’s resignation is effective June 30, 2015,” MCPS spokeswoman Hatton Littman announced in a prepared statement Monday afternoon. “He will remain on leave for the remainder of the school year as part of a structured retirement agreement with the school district. The settlement agreement between (MCPS) and former Sentinel principal Tom Blakely requires that Mr. Blakely will retire and sever his employment relationship with MCPS at the conclusion of this contract year. The balance due Mr. Blakely for the remainder of his contract is $90,473.”

“All administrators are on one-year contracts,” Hatton said in an interview following the announcement. “We initiated and reached the agreement in compliance with state law and in the best interests of the school district. I can’t relay any more information about the situation.”

MCPS officials have not publicly explained what prompted them to suspend Blakely, along with vice principal Libby Oliver, on Aug. 29 for five days. Hatton said the district was bound by state and federal laws to maintain confidentiality regarding a personnel incident. She did say that no students were involved in the incident.

Oliver has been reassigned to Hellgate High School’s vice principal/dean of students post, while Hellgate dean of students Ted Fuller was appointed interim principal at Sentinel. Fuller worked 13 years at Hellgate. He will be joined in Sentinel’s top leadership by Margo Duneman, who is now interim assistant principal after 15 years as an English teacher.

MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle said previously that Blakely was suspended for violating a district policy regarding staff ethics.

According to school board policies, principals have a primary responsibility for the improvement of student instruction and learning. The policy also says principals shall maintain high standards of excellence. District employees who fail to fulfill their job responsibilities, follow reasonable direction, or conduct themselves on or off the job in ways that impact their effectiveness are subject to discipline, the policy states.

Further, in Section 5224, the policy says district employees are expected to maintain high standards in their school relationships, “and to maintain professional relationships with students, parents, staff members and others.”

Blakely, a graduate of the University of Montana, came to Sentinel three years ago from Three Forks, where he was high school principal for nine years. He was named principal of the year by the Montana Association of Secondary Principals.

Oliver was Sentinel’s longtime speech and debate coach and a past president of the Montana Forensics Education Association.

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Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.