Russell said resignation not related to incidents at school

Less than a month after MITCH Charter School founder Debi Lorence resigned, the chairman of the school’s board of directors has turned in his resignation, effective Jan. 31.

School officials confirmed Friday that Norman Russell will step down as the head of the school board at the meeting tonight (Thursday).

Russell told The Times that he had planned on stepping down for months, but decided to stay awhile longer after Lorence’s resignation on Jan. 7.

“It’s just way too much time,” Russell said. “In the month of December I put in very few hours at my actual job compared to MITCH. There were days where I spent six or seven hours a day on MITCH.”

Russell joined the school board about a year-and-a-half ago and took the leadership role in October. He had served as vice chairman until the board’s previous chairman, Paula Bealieu, stepped down.

“When they asked me to be vice chairman I said OK, but I in no way wanted to be the chairman of the board,” Russell said. “But when the other member stepped down we had a couple of new members and there just wasn’t anyone to step up at the time.”

The news comes amid a series of changes at the small Tualatin school after teachers and parents complained of a sour atmosphere, systemic silencing of concerns and harassment through fear.

Russell said those issues, including Lorence’s resignation, were not the reason why he decided to step down.

“She beat me to the punch, because I had already planned to resign,” he said. “When that happened I decided to hang in for a little while longer.”

Russell said that he usually received about 100 emails a day regarding MITCH business.

Russell has been involved in MITCH for years. His son attended the school eight years ago when it was based out of Tigard High School and his construction company Russell Construction built their current home in Tualatin, converting the old warehouse into the K-8 school.

“I have known Debi for years,” Russell said.

Board members serve on a two-year cycle. Russell’s term was set to end in June.

“I’ve given them my time,” Russell said. “I’m not giving any entity what they deserve.”

Russell hasn’t had children enrolled in the school for years and said that more parents need to get involved in the school’s planning.

“It is a challenge to some parents,” Russell said. “They need to step up and get involved.”

The school board’s next meeting is set for Wednesday, Jan. 30. The board will have to decide whether to appoint a new member to fill the rest of Russell’s term or re-arrange responsibilities to serve as a six-member board until school board elections are held later this year.

Russell said that while the school has issues, it will be able to overcome them if it holds true to its founding principals.

“MITCH needs to stay focused on its vision and mission,” Russell said. “They have money in the bank and they need to decide amongst themselves who will lead the charge and keep going forward.”

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