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LCUSD explains reasons for midyear principal switch at La Cañada High

Monday was like any ordinary day at La Cañada High School, with one important distinction — for the first time since his arrival on campus in 2012, Ian McFeat was no longer principal.

Occupying the office in his stead was a new but familiar face. Jim Cartnal, a former LCHS associate and assistant principal who took an executive director position with the La Cañada Unified School District in June 2017, was appointed Friday to McFeat’s position on an interim basis.

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Meanwhile, McFeat has been moved to the district office and as of Monday is LCUSD’s executive director of student services, a position similar to that formerly occupied by Cartnal.

Supt. Wendy Sinnette said in a press release Friday the midyear switch helps capitalize on the administrators’ strengths and ensure optimal services to all stakeholders as the district seeks renewal of its accreditation through the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges.

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During an interview Tuesday, she elaborated on the vision behind the move.

“I think it was organic in terms of people articulating what their needs were,” she said. “Ian was really in a place, after his seventh year as principal, of wanting different responsibilities, and the board felt that it was an opportune time. We also had Jim’s openness and desire to be a site administrator.”

Sinnette credited McFeat for his contributions to the high school, including the introduction of a Teachers Development Group designed to focus on best practices in math instruction and creation of the JPL Space Academy, which lets high schoolers design, build and test homemade “rocket launchers” on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory campus.

LCUSD Governing Board President Kaitzer Puglia said that in Cartnal’s time as executive director, he followed through with the district goal of implementing Challenge Success — a Stanford University-based program that aims to balance academic excellence with student confidence and well-being — across all district campuses.

“We’ve invested for so many years in the 7-12 students, so looking at bringing that whole project and program and the research to the elementary schools became a real focus,” Puglia said. “That was a strength Jim had. We were able to really use his skills in that area and introduce this program to our families and our students and staff at the elementary level.”

Cartnal’s interim status allows the district to ensure the midyear principal change goes smoothly, Sinnette said, and does not indicate the district is looking for another candidate.

The change-up also gives McFeat, who announced during LCHS’ commencement ceremony in June he had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer, more flexibility than a principal’s schedule traditionally allows, although Sinnette said Tuesday while that was a consideration, it was not what motivated the move.

As executive director of student services, McFeat will earn a salary of $145,764. Cartnal, who was appointed executive director in 2017 at an initial salary of $132,065 will earn $143,184 as principal, Sinnette confirmed.

Just hours after Friday’s announcement, McFeat said he felt good about the transition and was excited about LCHS’ future.

“It’s about the district’s need to look for growth opportunities in keeping with its [Local Control Accountability Plan] priorities,” he said of the switch. “I think it’s a good thing.”

Cartnal said when the LCUSD Governing Board asked if he’d be interested in the principal’s position, he was thrilled.

“I’d always had a hope I could return back here in a role that would allow me to expand my leadership opportunities,” he said Tuesday. “It’s really a dream come true to be in this role. I’m happy to be back.”

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