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State College Area School District: Mextorf resigns after DUI charge

State College Area School District Superintendent Richard Mextorf resigned Saturday morning, following a DUI arrest that became public last week.

Mextorf

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“I am so sorry to have fallen short, and for letting everyone down in such dramatic fashion,” Mextorf wrote in a statement, in which he also thanked school board and community members for giving him the chance to work in the district. “I am unsure what the future will hold. At the present time, I am working with my support systems and focusing on getting better.”

MextorfÂ’s resignation came more than two weeks after his arrest in Clinton County, and after some community members had called for his resignation. He said the decision was a mutual one agreed to by all parties.

“It sets a terrible example for the schoolchildren,” Brian Kaleita, a landlord who unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2009 and a parent of former State College students, said on Thursday. “It has to raise serious questions about Dr. Mextorf’s ability to continue to be effective in a community like State College, or any community for that matter. Many people are of the opinion that the most decent thing that he could do would be to resign.”

Mextorf, 48, was charged with DUI after being stopped by a trooper in Clinton County early the morning of Thursday, Nov. 18.

State police announced the arrest on Wednesday. And on Friday, a criminal complaint filed in district court said that Mextorf’s blood alcohol content was .316 percent at the time of his arrest — almost four times the legal limit for driving.

State College board members met Saturday morning with Mextorf, and in a letter to parents and staff members Saturday afternoon they said they planned to formally accept his resignation at the boardÂ’s meeting Monday.

“His departure is sudden, and we wish he (sic) and his family well in their next phase of life,” board members wrote. “Rich brought to the district a new focus for education, one that set a boundary-less environment for all students, challenging us to learn, collaborate and share our talents in all venues. It is the board’s hope that his vision and passion for 21st century education will inspire and endure.”

Mextorf had worked as superintendent in the district with about 7,200 students since July 2009. His salary was $154,787.

Assistant Superintendent Michael Hardy will become acting superintendent, board members said, adding that they hope to have a permanent replacement in place for the 2011-12 school year.

The board said its selection process will be similar to the one they used to select Mextorf and will include hiring an outside firm to facilitate the search and asking the community for input.

Learning from mistakes

In other districts and other states when the top academic leader was arrested for drunken driving, the consequences have varied. Some school chiefs have resigned or been fired; some have stayed on the job, calling it a teachable moment and giving a speech to students at prom season about the dangers of drunken driving.

“It is tough, because it’s somebody’s life,” Bob Lumley- Sapanski, a Bellefonte school board member and second-vice president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said Friday. “On the other hand, you owe it to the community and the kids to be a role model.”

In January 2006, the York Dispatch reported that the superintendent of York Suburban School District was arrested on DUI charges and had a blood-alcohol content of about .119. William Hartman Jr. stayed on the job for a year and half, retired in July 2007, and now works for the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals.

“He admitted to making an error in judgment,” board President John DeHass told the Hanover Evening Sun. “I admire him for that. I don’t condone or excuse the behavior. He has 30-plus years as an effective educator and 20-plus years as an administrator. It would be tough to judge a person on one instance of behavior.”

ThereÂ’s no record of Mextorf ever previously being arrested in Pennsylvania.

In February 2007, the Allentown Morning Call reported that Panther Valley Schools Superintendent J. Christopher West was arrested for driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.22. West resigned six months later to take another job. He said the DUI was not a factor.

Darrell Porter, a superintendent in Smackover, Ark., was fired in November 2008, after he was arrested for drunken driving and endangering a minor, the Associated Press reported. He had two children in the car with him when he was arrested.

But Washington stateÂ’s top educator, arrested in March for DUI, is still on the job. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn even issued a letter to high school students in April, reminding them of the stateÂ’s no-tolerance law for drunken driving,

“For me, as a career educator, this is a teachable moment,” the Tacoma News Tribune quoted Dorn as saying when he pleaded guilty. “I am going to continue to seek out opportunities to help young people learn from my mistake.”

Community reaction

Before state police at Lamar released any official information on Wednesday, details of the arrest had spread throughout the community for about a week. ItÂ’s not clear who had knowledge of the arrest and revealed the information to the public initially.

The two initial stories about his arrest in the Centre Daily Times received more than 90 online comments, with most of those who commented calling for his removal.

“(T)here is a big difference in forgiving someone and the person still having to pay the consequences of his wrongdoing,” wrote one person. “There are certain jobs where you can get away with a DUI and there are certain ones you can’t.”

Early Friday afternoon, Carolyn Harpster, 18, expressed mixed feelings about the matter. During the 2009-10 school year, Harpster and other members of the State College Area High School student government met with Mextorf regularly and worked with him on a number of issues.

“I really enjoyed every encounter with him, because he was so easy to joke around with, which is such a breath of fresh air,” she said. “But he also treated us like adults.”

Harpster, now a freshman at Penn State, was upset when she learned of his arrest. She didnÂ’t defend MextorfÂ’s alleged actions. If Mextorf did drive drunk, as police said, then Harpster considers him lucky that no one was hurt. But she was also upset about comments from people who seem to take pleasure in MextorfÂ’s predicament. She was conflicted about whether he should lose his job.

“I think this a very horrible thing that he did, that is going to alter the rest of his life,” she said. “I hope he gets his life figured out. I hope that the guy I knew is still there somewhere. I hope people can accept his apology.”

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