The superintendent of Eanes schools said Friday that she erred in offering a campus administrator job to a finalist whose history included questionable text messages to a student, and Eanes trustees said they would review how officials vetted the prospective assistant principal.
The comments capped a week that began with the announcement of a new Westlake High School assistant principal, Paul Weil, then a rapid public outcry over a criminal investigation in Weil’s recent past and finally an Eanes decision to rescind the job offer.
School board President Rob Hargett said he will help lead an effort to strengthen the district’s hiring process, perhaps including parental input, and might seek to shift some final hiring decisions from Superintendent Nola Wellman to the Board of Trustees.
“We agree that the decision to offer a contract to this gentleman was a mistake,” said Hargett, who said he wasn’t made aware of Weil’s history until after the announcement of his hiring. “We are disappointed it happened, and we want to make certain it never happens again.”
In an interview with the American-Statesman on Friday, Wellman said she hadn’t predicted the community’s strong adverse response to hiring Weil, but said that if she had, “Of course, I would have made a different decision or choice. … I think the mistake was not anticipating the community reaction.”
Weil, who was scheduled to start at Westlake on Oct. 10, had resigned from his post as dean of students at Stevenson High, north of Chicago, after the texts he sent to a student were made public in April 2012.
Wellman said she was confident that she had all relevant information about the police investigation involving Weil. She said she had reviewed media accounts from the Chicago area, and she had interviewed him. She acknowledged that she had not received or read a lengthy report by Lincolnshire, Ill., police, who investigated, but didn’t charge, Weil.
The report was publicly available and included descriptions of Weil’s interactions with the student.
“I understood that somewhere in the process, the police report had been reviewed,” Wellman said.
Police records show the text exchanges began in September 2011 and included the following texts from Weil to the student: “Pizza delivery boy? Hot” and, referring to a trip the student was taking, “Don’t come home with a venereal disease.”
In one exchange, Weil texted the student, “Such a funny boy you are. When are we gonna hang out so I can put you to work? I have long list of things for you to do.”
According to the police report, when detectives interviewed Weil, they discussed text messages that they had obtained. Weil said he considered the messages friendly banter, but acknowledged that some of them could be considered “questionable” from “dean to student.”
Weil was one of three finalists for the Westlake assistant principal job. One other finalist is currently a department chair at Dripping Springs High School, and another has been an administrator in the Ector County school district in Odessa.
Wellman said her overall opinion of Weil was developed in part from letters of recommendation and other favorable information that provided a broader view of his experience and background.
“If that is the only piece of information you have, it could certainly be very concerning,” she said of the texting investigation.
Judging from written and verbal civic feedback that poured in during the week, Wellman said she realized some parents had lost confidence in her ability to lead the district, but she added that the safety of students remains her highest priority.
“I want the community to know that I’m looking after their children, and that is something I am really committed to,” she said.
Like Hargett, Wellman said she would review the hiring process, including whether to include more input from parents. Officials said that Westlake staff initially screened about 60 applicants and that several finalists were interviewed by a panel that included district faculty and staff, but no parents or students.
“I am looking at this now and saying, ‘How can we really learn from this experience?’” Wellman said.
On Friday, other school board trustees referred questions to Hargett.
Hargett said, “I think that one of the reasons that we may in fact take on the responsibility for approving administrative hires is to put more eyes on potential hires, ask more questions, make sure that we are satisfied that someone is the right fit for Eanes.”
Statesman and KVUE
This story is reported in partnership with KVUE-TV. See more of Tony Plohetski’s investigative and exclusive reports online at MyStatesman.com and on air at KVUE.