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Chase City Council voices opposition to Thornton’s contract

SoVaNow.com / July 30, 2014
In an unprecedented move, members of the Chase City Council voted to send a resolution and open letter to Mecklenburg County school trustees, the Board of Supervisors, and the local newspapers expressing their opposition to school trustees’ current plans to extend the contract of existing Mecklenburg County school superintendent Dr. James Thornton.

The vote was four in favor, and none opposed. Council members Marshall Whitaker and Vice-Mayor Lisa Gillispie were absent from the meeting.

Before taking a vote, Council member Brenda Hatcher read a prepared statement criticizing Thornton for the state of the schools and blaming him for the schools’ lagging performance. “When Dr. Thornton arrived in the county in 2010, all of our schools were accredited. Now only two are just barely there — Park View and Chase City. In 2010, we were rated number 14 in the state. Now in 2014, we are number 100 according to a website ‘School Diggers.’ To me this is unreal. The stock market goes up and down not school ratings, not if you have the same teachers and the same students.”

Hatcher also shared her concern with the exodus of teachers from the schools since last year. “In September we will have 53 new teachers coming into the school system. Why? Did 53 retire or did they decide to go elsewhere?

According to records produced to The Sun through a FOIA request, Mecklenburg County lost 58 teachers at the end of last year, 20 retired and 38 left for other reasons. The school system will also replace two principals, one at Park View Middle School and another at La Crosse Elementary School. As of Aug. 16, a new Assistant Superintendent of Instruction will also be hired. In addition to the teaching staff, Mecklenburg County Public Schools lost 33 other employees. Among the 11 that retired and 22 who left for other reasons were guidance counselors, instructional assistants, a speech pathologist and a diagnostician.

Chase City Council members Charles Willis, Winthy Hatcher, and James Bohanan said that they were in complete agreement with the sentiment expressed in Hatcher’s statement. Willis added that instead of extending the superintendent’s contract, “maybe it’s time to start looking in a different [direction].”

Gillispie was not present at the meeting, but sent a written statement stating, “This may be an unusual stand, but the Town of Chase City Council is opposed to extending the contract of Superintendent James Thornton. His success record as our Superintendent has driven our schools from ranking 14 of all Virginia Schools down to the bottom five. [According to] the website, School Digger, out of 117 districts in Virginia, Mecklenburg County ranks 100. When a potential business, industry or family comes to our area the first thing they want to know are about our schools.”

Gillispie also shared her concern that under-performing schools will hurt future economic development in the county.

Chase City Council is the only public body in the county to take a public stand opposing the proposed actions of the school board. Officials in South Hill, Boydton, and Clarksville said that they have no plans to take any formal action and there are no plans to call a special meeting before Thursday’s vote by the school board.

The agenda for the July meeting of the Mecklenburg County School Board includes a vote on Thornton’s renegotiated contract. In an email from board secretary Sharon Shuttleworth, forwarding the agenda, including the following statement for the public, “If anyone would like to speak during public input, please let Mrs. Shuttleworth, School Board Clerk, know by Wednesday, July 30, or let Mrs. Laura Pittard know on Thursday, July 31.”

The vote to extend Thornton’s contract has drawn fire from the public on Facebook and Viewpoint letters to The Sun, including one penned by the Chairperson of the Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership Chris Bailey, since word leaked out about the plan.

The regular July meeting of the Mecklenburg County School board is currently scheduled for Thursday, July 31 at the central office in Boydton. A closed session to discuss personnel matters will start at 6 p.m., followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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