Jefferson Middle School principal on ‘extended leave,’ interim principal to take over

MADISON, Wis. — The principal of Jefferson Middle School in Madison is on an extended leave of absence, according to a Madison Metropolitan School District leader.

In an email to Jefferson families Thursday afternoon, Interim Superintendent Dr. Jane Belmore said she was “notified this week that Principal Tequila Kurth has decided to take an extended leave of absence.”

Belmore said long-time district staff member Mary Kelley will serve as the interim principal and work with Assistant Principal Larry Love. Kelley has served as principal of Black Hawk and Toki Middle Schools, and most recently East High School.

“We’re going to provide all of the supports necessary to make sure that students in Jefferson end the year on a strong note, and this transition is one that is smooth,” district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said. “We believe with interim principal Mary Kelley, she’s the perfect one to do that.”

Belmore’s letter didn’t specify a reason why Kurth decided to take leave, and LeMonds said he wasn’t able to speak to that, saying it was a personal decision of Kurth’s.

“We recognize that the number of recent transitions at Jefferson has been challenging, especially during the school year,” Belmore wrote. “I am confident that with this leadership and extra support, we will be in a better position to regain your trust that Jefferson will be a safe and welcoming school for all.”

LeMonds said administrators are putting a “comprehensive transition and support plan” in place, and part of that includes examining the school’s current climate.

“I really think it’s a great opportunity to, if there is a culture issue there, to reset it and move forward,” LeMonds said. “That really was the message at the meeting was moving forward and just doing what’s best for our students.”

Kurth’s leave comes after a number of incidents during this school year, with the most recent taking place Wednesday afternoon, when Madison police say a student was taken to the hospital with a concussion after being punched by a classmate.

Love sent a letter Wednesday night informing parents of the incident, saying in part, “given the recent challenges Jefferson staff and families have been working through together, I wanted to make sure that I am being as transparent as possible with you. That can only make our collaboration stronger as we move forward.”

In December, a student was accused of shooting two classmates with a BB gun while they were getting out of the bus. News 3 Now first reported that the accused student previously threatened to shoot up and “kill everyone” inside the school, according to district documents. Staff members have expressed frustration with the district’s disciplinary policy.

After the BB gun incident, Belmore said the district was taking the incident seriously and that administrators try to learn from situations like it.

Belmore said a Jefferson Middle School family night to discuss safety challenges is rescheduled from Jan. 23 to for Feb. 6 at 6 p.m.