Eastside Catholic president resigns after gay vice principal's dismissal

by: Casey McNerthney and Alison Grande, KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:


Sister Mary Tracy, the Eastside Catholic High School President and Head of School, submitted her resignation to the school's board of trustees.

Sr. Tracy's resignation comes after weeks of backlash for the dismissal of vice principal Mark Zmuda on December 17. Zmuda’s dismissal initially prompted a sit-in attended by more than 400 students.

“Sister Mary came to this decision after much prayer and reflection. For Sister Mary it was a difficult, but necessary decision so that a new leader can be brought in to ensure the entire Eastside Catholic community is moving forward on a positive path,” an e-mail from the school’s board of trustees read.

Eastside parents and alumni were told a school parents' meeting is currently scheduled for Thursday, January 23. Others meetings are expected.

Stephanie Merrow is a drama coach at Eastside Catholic -- and she also got engaged to her girlfriend after Zamuda’s dismissal.

Merrow worried she’d lose her job. Instead, the school offered her a contract. 

“I feel bad for Sister Mary,” Merrow told KIRO 7. “My heart is happy for the kids and for Mark. I feel the kids are going to see they can actually make a difference. … They’re organized and they’re thoughtful and they’re pushing for love and acceptance of everyone.”

Tuesday night, Zmuda supporters met to prepare for Thursday’s meeting and reacted to Sr. Tracy’s sudden resignation.

“It’s a bitter sweet victory,” said Florence Colburn who has two children at the school.   “It’s sad we’re here and it came to this, but this is what had to happen to reopen communication with the board and set things right at the school.

Colburn said the next step is, “the reinstatement of Mr. Zmuda.”

Corey Sinser graduated in 2006 and helped organize Tuesday’s meeting. He learned of the resignation from the e-mail the board of trustees sent shortly after 5 p.m.

“It was a big sigh of relief,” he said. “We want to stop firing gay people. It’s 2014 and it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Sienna Colburn, is a student at the school, was so upset with how the school handled Zmuda’s dismissal she was looking to transfer.

“I think now that the school can start fresh with someone new, I think I’ll really consider staying,” Colburn said. 

The full e-mail sent to the Eastside Catholic Community about Sr. Tracy’s resignation is posted at the end of this story.

“The dismissal of the Vice Principal was based on the Archdiocese of Seattle’s authority over a Catholic school,” Principal Polly Skinner wrote in an e-mail to an Eastside graduate the day news of Zmudas’ dismissal broke. “We are saddened and as a Catholic school, bound by Catholic Teaching regarding Same Sex marriage.”

Staff said the decision about the vice principal, Mark Zmuda, came after direct order from the Archdiocese. An Eastside Catholic attorney told KIRO 7 that same-sex marriage "is something that is clear at every level of the Catholic Church from the Archdiocese level up to the Pope."

"The fact that you guys are all here for me means the world," Zmuda told students in a video obtained by KIRO 7. "I just wanted you to know that I love each and every one of you. I appreciate the love and concern."

Eastside Catholic is in Sammamish but is part of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Last year, the Vatican gave Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain the job of making a group of Catholic nuns adhere to Church teachings after those nuns supported gay Catholics and other social justice issues.

Pope Francis made the most progressive Church statement on homosexuality this summer when he asked a reporter, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests. The move helped make him Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

After gay marriage was approved by the State Legislature in 2012, Archbishop Sartain supported getting signatures to back Referendum 74, which put gay marriage to a statewide vote. A week before the election, pro-gay marriage Catholics demonstrated outside St. James Cathedral, near the Archdiocese headquarters.

Zmuda is a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia. He has a master of education in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Texas with principal certification, according to his Eastside Catholic biography. Zmuda had taught math and held several administrative roles. Before coming to Eastside Catholic Zmuda was at Cardinal Gibbons School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Below is the text of an e-mail sent to Tuesday afternoon from the Eastside Catholic Board of Trustees.

January 21, 2014

Dear Eastside Catholic Community,

After several years as Eastside Catholic's President and Head of School, Sister Mary Tracy has submitted her resignation to the board of trustees. The board has accepted her resignation, which is effective immediately. We thank Sister Mary for her many contributions to Eastside Catholic.

Principal Polly Skinner and Interim Vice Principal Tom Lord will continue their leadership of the school supported by our outstanding faculty and staff as they carry forward with Eastside Catholic's three Touchstones of Academic Excellence, Relationships and Servant Leadership.

Sister Mary came to this decision after much prayer and reflection. For Sister Mary it was a difficult, but necessary decision so that a new leader can be brought in to ensure the entire Eastside Catholic community is moving forward on a positive path.

The board of trustees, along with a search committee, will immediately begin a search for Eastside Catholic School's next President.

We realize that members of the Eastside Catholic community (students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni and friends) may have questions. In that spirit, the board is in the process of setting up additional town hall meetings with the Eastside Catholic community. A school parents' meeting is currently scheduled for Thursday, January 23. We will notify you as soon as additional meeting dates are scheduled. The board has also established an email address for questions and communication with the board: boardoftrustees@eastsidecatholic.org.  

In closing, we want to once again thank Sr. Mary for her many contributions and to thank each of you in the broader EC community for your ongoing thoughts, prayers and support of the Eastside Catholic school.  

Tom Padilla  

Brad Bastian  

Interim Board of Trustees Co-Chairs  

Eastside Catholic School

Follow this link to read previos coverage of Zmuda's dismissal from Eastside Catholic.

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