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Going in the wrong direction / April 28, 2016

Dear Viewpoint:

Attn: Parents of Children Enrolled in HCPS A Call For Action!

This editorial is written on behalf of the children of Halifax County Public Schools. Approximately four years ago we said good-bye to Superintendant Paul Stapleton, a visionary. Superintendant Stapleton retired from HCPS citing one of the old cliques—spend more time with family, health reasons, spend time with grandchildren, etc—but, there had been so much chatter in the community that he was overpaid—earning a salary of $157,00 per year plus amenities. We thought, inclusive of myself, that Supt. Stapleton’s spend habits were leading our school district into bankruptcy. When I referred to Supt. Stapleton as a visionary, he truly had a vision mapped out in his mind to put HCPS on the map and to be recognized statewide. To make this happen he surrounded himself with people who believed in his vision and who did a great job implementing it.

Superintendant Stapleton’s accomplishments included the following:

1. All schools in Halifax County remaining fully accredited by the State of Virginia during his entire tenure of six years.

2. Establishment of Halifax Education Foundation – set up to raise money for HCPS -currently in existence-- Awarding scholarships to HSPS students, recently donating money to purchase new basketball goals at HCHS, and annually awarding mini grants to numerous HSPS teachers.

3. Created business partnerships to generate funds to be used by HCPS with Dominion Power donating thousands of dollars to support the STEM Center (Science, Technology, and Engineering Math) and enhanced the center with the partnerships of DCC, SVCC, and Virginia Tech.

4. Established dual enrollment classes that enabled students to earn AA degrees—collectively saving parents over a million dollars.

5. Established successful academies which created smaller learning environments. Academies included: LAW, STEM, EMT, Fire Fighting, Pharmacy Tech, etc.

6. Secured approximately $2.5M through 21st Century funding with funds being used for summer school, after school tutoring program, SOL remediation, Summer STEM Academy, motivational speakers, educational field trips, etc. The 21st Century funds will be depleted at the end of Summer School, 2016.

7. Awarded $800,000 grant to organize a 9th grade transition program at HCHS.

8. Dedicated the Tisha Waller Track and Field honoring a local Olympian Champion.

The citizens of Halifax County should be aware of the accomplishments mentioned above which can be found published in the archives of News and Records and Gazette Virginian. Superintendant Stapleton was a mover and shaker.

After the departure of Superintendent Paul Stapleton, we acquired our current Superintendant, Dr. Merle Herndon. Dr. Herndon recently signed a four year contract with a salary of $151,000 plus amenities. Her motto for HCPS is “Children First.” When Dr. Herndon was initially hired, we thought she would be the instructional leader that our district needed for the testing mania that we now face in the State of Virginia. Unfortunately since Dr. Herndon’s tenure, our tests scores for HCPS have declined by 12% (DOE Scores Archived) with some of our schools being on the verge of becoming focus schools—the management of a school that’s taken over by the VA Department of Education—a nightmare that no one wants to happen. Schools that lose their accreditation due to poor academic performance will affect ALL entities of Halifax County.

Instead of Dr. Herndon taking the reins to be a strong instructional leader and surrounding herself with individuals to implement her vision, she became a human resource specialist. I cannot highlight any academic accomplishments for Dr. Herndon, but I can share some of her actions that have brought the morale of our current employees to an all time low. I am speaking on behalf of all the teachers who would like to express their unhappiness, but cannot because they fear losing their job. Even in the community, I have not spoken to anyone who has anything favorable to say about Dr. Herndon except the school boards members who thought she was deserving of a four year contract. Wake up Halifax County! We need the most qualified person that we can find to head the most valuable part of our community - the schools. Poor performing schools will erode our county.

Dr. Herndon’s actions have quickly set in motion a downward decline in our community.

1. Immediately dissolved LORP. I thought this was an excellent way to say to our former teachers “thank you” for your years of service. Our former CFO stated that ample money had been included in the current budget to cover LORP, but Dr. Herndon had other plans for the monies.

2. Investigated one of our former administrators that caused her so much stress that she had no other recourse but find other employment. She was only guilty of loving children and going beyond the call of duty for the welfare of the children under her supervision.

3. Demoted one of our former administrators that caused him to take an early retirement. His devotion to our school district was noted based on the number of community leaders that came to support the reversal of Dr. Herndon’s decision of demotion.

4. Terminated teachers - citing reasons of untruths - and reduced the salaries of numerous teachers/staff.

5. Suspension of teachers/staff have run rapid - some deserving, some not. I am not making excuses for those teachers/staff deserving of a job action, but what do you expect when an unhealthy work environment is created by the decisions made by the central administration.

6. Other personnel matters could easily be cited, but why. She has gained enough experience as a HR person to easily quality for the position in another school district.

In my opinion, Dr. Herndon’s actions, since employed, do not support her slogan, “Children First.” I challenge the citizens of Halifax County to call your school board member and demand the removal of Dr. Herndon as Superintendant of HCPS. In her current contract, HCPS is obligated to pay her nine months of her salary, not four years—smart move by the school board. Pay her for nine months - money well spent--and return her to Campbell County. She has to go NOW before our district goes deeper into a hole of academic despair due to the lack of leadership. If we allow her to stay the length of her contract, it will take a decade to pull out of the poor academic hole of despair she is digging. We cannot continue to pay her $10K per month to receive $0 in return. We paid Mr. Stapleton $157K per year, but we received a return on our investment - review his accomplishments above. I am sure we can find one of our former employees that would be willing to come out of retirement to serve as an interim superintendent until we find the right person for the job. Let’s truly make our CHILDREN FIRST. They are our future. A CALL FOR ACTION IS NOW!!!!!!

Sandra Garner-Coleman

Former HCHS teacher
Vernon Hill

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Contrary to an assertion in the above letter, former Superintendent of Schools Paul Stapleton was paid compensation of $317,000 for the last year he was employed by Halifax County Public Schools. That amount included his salary, $50,000 for an annuity, $24,000 in travel, unused vacation pay, life insurance and VRS contributions — all shown in records of the school system. Also, not all schools in Halifax County remained fully accredited by the State of Virginia during Stapleton’s entire tenure. In 2007, SOL tests were made more rigorous; several Halifax County schools and numerous other schools throughout Virginia were not state-accredited after the standards were changed.)

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