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Confidential meeting on PVHS stirs outrage
SoVaNow.com / March 08, 2017A confidential discussion among teachers at Park View High School and two school trustees concerning school policy and the role of Park View High School Principal Darnell Carter has sparked a fight on the Mecklenburg County School Board, with one member demanding the resignations of colleagues who took part in the meeting.
The gathering came to light in a leaked exchange of emails between South Hill trustee Gavin Honeycutt and teachers at the school who quietly assembled at Honeycutt’s flower and gift shop March 1. Also attending the meeting was trustee Wanda Bailey, who represents ED-3 in the South Hill and La Crosse areas.
The perceived intrusion by school board members into personnel matters has drawn an outraged response from Dale Sturdifen, ED-2 trustee, who in comments this week to School Board chairman Brent Richey called on Honeycutt and Bailey to resign. A second trustee, Dora Garner asked to have School Board attorney Brad King attend the next meeting to elaborate on the appropriate role of school trustees.
For his part, Honeycutt said the accusations lodged against him and Bailey could not be further from the truth. A “set of teachers” contacted him because they considered him approachable, said the ED-5 trustee, and his role on the School Board includes listening to their concerns.
He declined further comment.
Bailey, in an email response to Sturdifen after word of the meeting came out, sought to reassure him that the meeting did not violate any laws or the School Board’s code of conduct, which a majority of the trustees approved at their January monthly meeting. “There was a meeting. It was not secret,” Bailey wrote in the email. “Gavin and I listened to teachers who have concerns about discipline at PVH [Park View High School]. No one’s job performance was discussed. Listened and passed info on to Mr. Nichols [Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols].”
After learning of the gathering two days after it took place, Sturdifen contacted Richey on March 3 to ask him to identify which, if any, school board members participated in a meeting during which Carter’s job performance may have been discussed. Sturdifen also asked Richey to brief the School Board’s attorney on the matter to determine if the school division may be liable in the event Carter pursues civil action for potential violations of his contractual or employee rights.
Sturdifen also asked that Carter be informed of the meeting so he can “use the information as he sees fit.”
Carter, who is in his first year as principal at Park View, was unaware of the meeting when he was contacted by this newspaper. He said he would prefer to withhold comment.
Sturdifen told Richey in that same March 3 email exchange, “At some point board members have to understand when they cross the lines of board member duties and responsibilities.”
Contacted by The Sun for comment, Richey said that he is still gathering facts before evaluating what, if anything needs to be done. “This was not a board meeting. And I did not know about it until Friday [March 3],” he said.
The meeting that Sturdifen cited in his communications to the board chair “appears that it was not initiated by Gavin,” said Richey. “I cannot tell,” but someone may have reached out to him on Feb. 27.
An email written by Honeycutt and viewed by this newspaper set out the time and place of the meeting. “Please can you and whoever wants to join you come to my shop (Gavins) and talk Wednesday night around 5? Please call me on my cell and let me know if this can happen. This is important to you and me as well,” wrote Honeycutt. “PLEASE give me a buzz today and let me know. It will be CONFIDENTIAL I can assure you. Invite anyone you want to come.”
A second email sent that same day by Honeycutt — the names of recipients were redacted — included the following message: “PLEASE LET THEM KNOW THAT THIS IS CONFIDENTIAL!! NO NEED TO BE AFRAID!! I PROMISE you I will have their back. We have very troubling issues in Mecklenburg and I am very concerned.” Honeycutt also assured the recipient of the e-mail that “NO one will know that this meeting took place” adding, “530 on Wednesday in the back of my shop. No one will be here.”
Questioned about the matter this week, Nichols said he first heard about the meeting late Friday, March 3. Nichols did not say who contacted him, but he said his knowledge of the gathering was limited to a chain of emails between Sturdifen and Richey which also included CC’d messages from Honeycutt. While he was not critical of either Honeycutt or Bailey, Nichols said he was concerned that teachers were not following the protocols for addressing concerns such as sick leave, sick days, lesson plans, and the conduct of other school personnel.
Garner, who also learned of the gathering on March 3, said she has asked the board chairman to have School Board attorney King present at the next full meeting of trustees on March 20. She said she wants an explanation of the duties of school board members, which she believes are three-fold: “hire a superintendent, pass a budget and create policy.”
She said lawyers with the Virginia School Board Association discuss these duties each January during an orientation held for new board members.
Aside from what is enumerated by the VSBA, Virginia law is mostly silent when it comes to addressing the scope of school board members’ responsibilities. The Constitution vests the authority for operating local schools with the local board and the Virginia Code in section 22.1-71 provides that “School board members appointed or elected by district or otherwise shall have no organization or duties except such as may be assigned to them by the school board as a whole.”
The Mecklenburg County School Board follows this directive by establishing a number of committees to address issues between board members, Nichols noted. The meeting with Bailey and Honeycutt in attendance took place outside this committee structure.
The Virginia School Board Code of Conduct that school trustees adopted on Jan. 17 includes assurances that members will attend scheduled meetings, stay informed about issues under consideration, encourage open discussion and refrain from using the position on the board for personal or partisan gain.
The code of conduct also includes a vow to “delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent, and establish a process for accountability of administrators.”
Sturdifen, who confirmed in an interview that he was not party to the Wednesday meeting with Honeycutt, Bailey and others, said, “If we have a board attempting to do the jobs of our administrators, superintendent and assistant superintendent, it undermines our entire system. We should let them do their job.”
“I have the utmost confidence in their abilities,” Sturdifen added.
CommentsWell of course the admin and an board member who is in the pocket of admin will support admin. Last time I looked this was a free country and even though teachers work for admin, they have a right to express their concerns to their elected reps. What is the big deal!?!? Unless the truth that may come out will upset the apple cart!
- By allpolitical2 on 03 / 08 / 17
CommentsMecklenburg teachers deserve respect -- far more than they've been getting the last few years. They are PROFESSIONALS, specially trained in their areas, and they should be treated as such. Perhaps if they were given the courtesy and simple human decency they deserve they wouldn't have to violate sick leave policy because they are too exhausted, overwhelmed, and discouraged to make it another day. No other professions ascribe such ridiculous micro-managed policies as education. Mecklenburg Administration, get it together! Treat the teachers as they should be treated!!!!!!!! The fact you've forced their hand to have to speak in private should be a face-palm indication to administration that reevaluating higher-ups and their power-hungry fueled protocol needs revision.
- By Empathetic on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsAre we not right back where we were a few short years ago?
- By Community Schools on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsI would think that this is not a shock--teachers are leaving MID YEAR and that shows there is a problem. The meeting was "confidential" to protect the identity of the staff members and it was only a way for them to express their concerns in hopes that something could be done. Teachers have every right to meet with school board members and I would think that all school board members would welcome feedback from their staff rather than use it as an opportunity to place a dig at other board members. Mr. Honeycutt and Mrs. Bailey had good intentions and nothing illegal nor unethical occurred. The implications of something other than trying to support staff are preposterous. I applaud them for supporting the staff at Mecklenburg County Public Schools and for offering those employees some hope. It is sad that the newspaper thought that this is front page news and a scoop and I for one am disgusted that this article was even published in the newspaper.
- By Frustrated Beyond Belief on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsA few years ago teachers met with some of the very board members who are firing at Honeycutt and Bailey about Thornton and his policy. Amazing how it was OK then to have clandestine meetings but now that it's hurting their agenda, it's a problem. If grown up professionals with years of training, education, and experience must ask to meet with board members in private because their building level administration is such a problem, there is obviously a major, detrimental issue in Mecklenburg County. A Great Migration of educators across state and county lines is coming.
- By Going, Going, Gone on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsI really thought the new board and administration would place student and teacher well-being at the heart of their focus, but no; politics and vendettas continue to plague MCPS.
- By Angry Parent on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsI would think that the individual(s) who leaked the information to the press are in violation of employee confidentiality. PVHS is an accredited school in the county but teachers are leaving. Something is wrong with this school administration and now with whomever on the school board leaked the information...
- By Frustrated Parent on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsThe outrage seems a bit misplaced. Instead of hounding two board members, who from day one of their tenure, have visited the school and have asked for the teachers' voices, the outrage should be over why so many teachers are leaving, mid-year. One would think that the board would want to get to the bottom of that problem. One should be allowed access to one's elected officials. The two board members who are the most negative also met with teachers during the Thornton era, so they cannot complain when their colleagues do the same. No other board members seem willing to treat the teachers as professionals, and their gripes are real and not going away any time soon. Our school system now has a negative reputation and is known for not being teacher-centered. Teaching jobs are plentiful, and unless changes are made, it will become harder and harder to fill jobs here in this county. Listen to the teachers, board members, and make changes! Leave your colleagues alone!
- By Concerned citizen on 03 / 09 / 17
CommentsThere is obviously and underlying agenda here, with no consideration to what is best for our children or our schools. The question should be, “Why did this meeting even come about?” not “Has someone broken a rule?” The fact that a confidential email leaked out is suspicious as it is, but to make this entire situation about something other than concern for the well-being of our schools, our staff, and our children is utterly ludicrous. What is really your agenda? Is it because you’ll do whatever under-handed thing you can do to make sure the consolidated school (which was voted against 2 out of 3 times) is built in Boydton, rather than the agreed upon location closer to where the majority of county’s children are –in South Hill? Whatever the real agenda is, it is obviously being challenged by these two board members.
- By Bob on 03 / 10 / 17
CommentsLol. Let's fire Thornton, it will fix everything.....
Lol. Let's vote the entire board out, it will fix everything....
Lol. Let's change Board Chairs, it will fix everything.....
Lol, let's build new facilities, that won't help either...
Rather than focusing on those who think they are in charge, why don't we start focusing on our teachers and support them. After all, that's who impacts our kids the most. Not the Board, not the Supe, not the admins... This county has their priorities ALL wrong. Kids first.
- By Karma on 03 / 11 / 17
CommentsSo please explain to me how it is okay to have a private meeting without the rest of the board being present! This is a major issue and needs to be addressed! If you want to hold students accountable, then board members need to be held accountable for not following proposer policies and procedures. If the board members are not willing to take responsibility for there actions than I am certainly concerned!
- By Speaking the truth on 03 / 11 / 17
CommentsSince the board members who are complaining met themselves with disgruntled teachers when Thornton was here, then they set the precedent, it seems to me. There is nothing wrong when they met with teachers then and there is nothing wrong when board members meet with teachers now. The real issue that no one seems to want to address is why good and capable teachers are leaving mid-year? Ya'all on the board need to come together and find out why teachers are unhappy. Or, do you care?
- By Taloola on 03 / 12 / 17
CommentsHere's what was accomplished in the "leaking" of information: The era of fear for us teachers was well extended. We couldn't speak up for ourselves under Thornton for valid fear of reproach and loss of employment. Now we cannot speak up for ourselves for fear of our very real concerns being leaked and made a public mockery and means for board members to have ammunition against us and each other. Why don't we deserve respect? We do our best every day, and the "powers" that be continually dog us down. We are not in it for the income; we are in it for the kids of this county who deserve the best education we can give them. How can we do that if we continue to live in fear? PLEASE, BOARD, HELP US.
- By A SICK AND TIRED TEACHER on 03 / 13 / 17
CommentsI find it funny how both Sturdifen and Garner would meet privately with teachers during the Thornton administration and create chaos in the schools. Perhaps Sturdifen and Garner should resign. They are both an embarrassment.
- By Evelyn Watkins on 03 / 13 / 17
CommentsDale used to meet in private with people all the time in the Board room during the day. As long as there was less than 4 members there he it was considered ethical. Now, because he isn't in charge, it's all-of-a-sudden taboo to have private meetings. Karma is a dish best served cold. Eat up sir. This division is a disaster. We need to drain the swamp in Mecklenburg.
- By Witness on 03 / 13 / 17
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