After a four-hour executive session with Principal Fjell Ley, Nixyaawii Community School board members voted to terminate her.

The marathon board meeting on Dec. 1 followed a month after an intense November meeting where board members grilled Ley about her leadership and communication styles.

During the November session, board chair Kat Brigham expressed concern about relationships between Nixyaawii and other school districts - partnerships forged over the last several years. Board member Sally Kosey asked why Ley refused to substitute for absent teachers, an action that would have saved the charter school money during a time of budgetary challenge.

Though such a discussion typically happens in executive session, the November meeting took place in an open hearing at Ley's request. Ley, who attended that meeting by phone, expressed frustration at the lack of recognition she has received for increased attendance, higher test scores and a hike in graduation and college entrance rates since she began work a year and a half ago.

The upshot, Brigham said, is that Ley's leadership doesn't gibe with some of the school's main goals - teaching tribal culture, history and languages - and the termination reflected that dissonance.

"It was for our school - our school is important to the tribes," Brigham said.

During the November meeting, the board asked for Ley's resignation. Ley said she would decide after consulting an attorney.

The resignation never came, and during the December meeting, the board voted to terminate Ley.

Ley is Nixyaawii's second administrator, following Annie Tester who now teaches in Pilot Rock. Chartered in July 2004, the school sought to turn around a horrendously high dropout rate among American Indian students and to bring native languages and culture back from the brink.

Ley came to Nixyaawii after working at nine school districts in 11 years, including Culver, Lebanon, Bend-La Pine, Crook County and Brookings-Harbor. She also served as principal for the Oregon Connections Academy, a virtual online charter school based in Scio. She taught for a year in a remote Eskimo village in Alaska.

Until an interim principal is found, social studies teacher Belinda Toyama will take over principal duties. The Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District will act as a third party, helping the board navigate the recruitment process and find an interim principal.

"When you do something like this, you don't have any plans," Brigham said. "We hope to get an interim in place as soon as possible."

Filling the principal slot is only one challenge faced by the Nixyaawii board in the past two months. A $24,500 budget shortfall, arising after enrollment dropped by four students, sparked discussions about reducing health insurance benefits and cutting athletics. It appears, however, the deficit won't force cuts in teachers or staff this year.

Attempts to contact Ley for this story were unsuccessful.

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