After our June 28th board meeting, the Lower Richland community held an important meeting about the removal of Dr. Hursey from Lower Richland High School. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to be at the meeting, but I am thankful that I was able to watch a video of it. I have some thoughts.
First of all, I encourage folks to watch the entire meeting (click here or view below). I found it compelling and believe the questions asked were thoughtful and legitimate. The answers provided were not. And I want to be clear about something–while this particular issue involves Lower Richland High School and its community, I believe the way we have handled it should concern everyone in the district.
I have received dozens of calls from students, teachers, and families from the LR community. To a person, each of these folks described Dr. Hursey as an impactful leader who was getting the job done under incredibly difficult circumstances. I do not see how this “reassignment” was in the best interests of the LRHS students, teachers, and families.
Before I discuss this meeting specifically, I think it’s worth providing some context.
For months I have been asking the administration to provide the board with data so that we can (1) better understand why our district lost more teachers than most districts and (2) make intelligent, informed decisions about the administrative hires and appointments over the summer. Specifically, I requested (1) teacher turnover rate for each school in the district and (2) exit interviews of teachers leaving the district. The administration has withheld that information from the board.
At the June 28th board meeting, I made a motion that we delay the administrative appointments (including the appointment of a new principal at LRHS) until the district had provided this information. Ms. King seconded the motion. The motion did not pass. Every other board member voted against waiting until we had more information. I will never understand why the board continues to be a rubber stamp of every request of the administration without even the most basic information that would inform our decisions. We are choosing to remain in the dark in a way that I find irresponsible and indefensible.
Now, back to the LR community meeting. The community members asked the superintendent several questions.
First, at about the 6-minute mark in the video, the superintendent was asked why he removed Dr. Hursey as principal of LRHS. He declined to answer, citing the confidentiality of personnel decisions. I realize that employers have to be careful when discussing personnel decisions. However, the superintendent went on to suggest that this was nothing more than the usual end-of-year reassignment that happens all the time. At one point, he said that sometimes administrators request reassignment. If you’re not going to answer a question, then don’t answer it. But the rest of this response left the impression that this reassignment was routine or that maybe Dr. Hursey had even requested it. I don’t believe there was anything routine about this reassignment.
Second, at about the 12:35-minute mark, Dr. Witherspoon was asked what he had written on the graduation program that he showed to Chairwoman Harris in the middle of Dr. Hursey’s graduation speech. I think this is a legitimate question. Dr. Witherspoon did answer this question (watch his response at the 14:08-minute mark). He stated that he takes notes on what prior speakers say so that he can refer to the previous comments during his speech. He certainly left the impression that he did not write anything critical of Dr. Hursey’s graduation speech. I wish he would have just said whatever it was that he wrote and showed to Chairwoman Harris.
Finally, community members asked the superintendent why the district edited Dr. Hursey’s speech (15-minute mark in the video). I got this question a lot when folks called me. I don’t have an answer, but I believe it’s a legitimate question. While Dr. Witherspoon responded to this question–“She gave the speech she gave,”–he didn’t actually answer the question. The public has a question about why the district chose to edit a video of a public graduation speech given by a principal during her official duties. Surely, the administration can answer this question.
Which brings me to this: Why did Dr. Witherspoon show up? He didn’t provide any real answers to the community’s very real questions. He also proceeded to smile and text on his phone throughout the meeting. Folks were rightly upset about this. It was disrespectful, and I believe the board is right to expect more of the superintendent. Indeed, I have heard from teachers, staff, and administration employees who say they were embarrassed to watch that video. I was, too.
Finally, I don’t think it’s okay for us board members to act like we don’t have any responsibility. Sure, the superintendent unilaterally removed Dr. Hursey from her position, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play. For far too long, this board has rubber-stamped administration requests and worked hard to stifle any legitimate criticism of this administration or the board itself. It is not our job to “control the narrative” and protect the administration at all costs. It is our job to make sure that the students, staff, and families in this district are getting what they need. Which brings me to my final thought.
As it happens, we supervise the superintendent. I think it’s time we take that role seriously.
- Richland One (as far as I know) lost a higher percentage of teachers than almost any district in the state,
- the administration continues to withhold basic information from the board,
- the removal of Dr. Hursey from LRHS does not appear to have been warranted, and;
- there is a long-term pattern of a lack of transparency that has eroded our credibility among the stakeholders and communities in this district.
I think it is time for the board to have a serious discussion about the direction of the district and whether there needs to be a change in leadership. At the end of the day, we are hurting the students who need us the most when we don’t do our job.￼ I think it’s past time we really got to work.