ELIZABETHTON — It has been a few weeks since the recommendation by Superintendent Ed Alexander that Doug Mitchell should not be retained as principal at West Side Elementary School, but Thursday night was the first meeting of the Elizabethton City School Board since the controversy began.
Six members of the public spoke out in support of Mitchell and criticized Alexander’s leadership during the time set aside for citizens to speak.
Most of the speakers are parents with students in the school: Tim Larkins, Elizabeth Street, Brad Barrick and Dr. Rebecca Powers. Rhonda Bolton is a former employee at West Side and Linda Guimond is a current employee. Unlike an earlier public meeting on the controversy, neither Alexander nor Mitchell spoke during Thursday’s discussion.
Many cited the five years of excellent performance ratings Alexander has given Mitchell over the past five years and said it showed poor management for Alexander to recommend his removal after giving him such high marks and never identifying weaknesses on which Mitchell needed improvement. The parents also spoke of the outstanding performances the school has achieved academically under Mitchell’s direction after the school after the instability of a long series of short-term principals.
The citizens also said teachers were afraid to speak freely because of fear for their jobs.
Larkin said he has four children in the school. He said Alexander’s charges against Mitchell that were revealed in an April 4 public meeting for parents were “thin and without substance. He particularly cited the charge about homework “overkill” as a charge that was unjustified in terms of the state’s academic standing in comparison with national averages.
Larkin called Alexander’s leadership into question, saying he was insensitive and too political. Facing the board, he said Alexander “should be removed immediately.”
Street said people in the city are embarrassed because “the same drama comes up over and over.” She said despite the reoccurring personnel problems, “my kids are getting a wonderful education.”
Like Larkin, Street found no merit in Alexander’s charges against Mitchell that were raised during the April 4 meeting and also discussed the later charges of harassment of a teacher. She said the harassment charge was “laughable” especially the statement that the phone calls lasted 60 to 90 minutes.
Street referred to the Bible several times and said “sins will find you out.” She said there have been other illicit affairs in the school system and that “Mr. Alexander has been consistently inconsistent in directing the staff.”
Barrick echoed Street’s comments and said policy should be established so that staff changes had to be approved by the school board.
Powers spoke of Mitchell’s kindness and compassion and his support of his teachers.
She said the charges raised by Alexander “should have been addressed a long time ago.” Turning the tables, she said she was appalled by “story after story of injustice and outright nepotism”
Bolton also praised Mitchell as a team player who overcame such challenges as a 33 percent increase in enrollment to see West Side named an awards school two years in a row.
Guimond, also talked about the evaluations. She said she is a former manager and she was taught that if a problem wasn’t documented at the time, it could not be used against an employee later. “How can you fire someone who has had four years of superior evaluations,” she asked. “You don’t throw away a gem like Mr. Mitchell.”
On another matter during the time for citizens to speak, Susan Peters discussed her recent termination as a volunteer at Harold McCormick Elementary School because she allegedly made some teachers uncomfortable for discussing political matters. She said the allegations in the dismissal letter about a teacher accusing her of shining a light on negative things was not true and no teacher had ever told Peters she made them uncomfortable.
Peters wrote an email apology to any Harold McCormick teacher she made uncomfortable.
Dr. Grover May was the only board member to respond to the comments and he did so at the end of the meeting. He said he has received many emails and responded to those who asked questions. He said there will be policy workshops in the future.