Cit­i­zens sup­port su­per­in­ten­dent

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — More than 200 cit­i­zens turned out Wed­nes­day, April 6, to have their voices heard at the Queen Anne’s County School Board meet­ing, which ear­lier was moved to the cafe­te­ria at Cen­tre­ville Mid­dle School to ac­com­mo­date the an­tic­i­pated crowd. The main topic of dis­cus­sion was the board’s de­ci­sion not to re­new Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools Dr. Carol Wil­liamson’s con­tract. The ma­jor­ity of over two hours of pub­lic com­ments were in sup­port of keep­ing Wil­liamson.

All 190 seats pro­vided were filled Wed­nes­day night, with about 50 more peo­ple stand­ing in the rear of the room and in the hall­way for the meet­ing that lasted three and a half hours.

Those who wished to com­ment dur­ing the meet­ing were asked to sign in record­ing their names, tele­phone num­bers and ad­dress; 40 cit­i­zens spoke be­fore the board. Of the 40 who spoke, 38 did so in sup­port of

Wil­liamson and were in fa­vor of the board re­new­ing Wil­lam­son’s con­tract as su­per­in­ten­dent, two spoke in fa­vor of the board’s de­ci­sion, ad­vo­cat­ing change.

A pe­ti­tion signed by 300 Queen Anne’s County high school stu­dents in sup­port of Dr. Wil­liamson was pre­sented by one of the stu­dent board mem­bers.

For­mer County Com­mis­sioner Bob Sim­mons was among the first to speak. He said he had ad­dressed the board at the March meet­ing both dur­ing the pub­lic com­ment ses­sion and in writ­ing, he be­lieved he should have re­ceived some re­sponse fol­low­ing the meet­ing.

Sim­mons told the board to con­sider his pre­vi­ous let­ters a for­mal com­plaint and of­fered that they might post their re­ply on the QACPS web­site.

Richard McNeal, in­terim prin­ci­pal at Sudlersville El­e­men­tary, spoke to the school board mem­bers, stat­ing he did not be­lieve the board dis­played proper use of the demo­cratic process. McNeal was con­cerned that the state­ment, “Black lives mat­ter,” made at the March meet­ing by board mem­ber Ar­lene Tay­lor was mis­lead­ing.

“Do not all lives mat­ter? Should we not ex­press that con­sid­er­a­tion to all of our stu­dents?” McNeal asked. McNeal also asked that the board pro­vide him with a writ­ten re­sponse within 10 work­ing days.

Bill Schindler, pro­fes­sor at

Wash­ing­ton Col­lege and fa­ther to three stu­dents in QACPS, said, “Dr. Wil­liamson de­serves our com­plete sup­port and a for­mal apol­ogy... the board has not acted in the best in­ter­est of its stu­dents.” He ques­tioned the board’s de­ci­sion to “strate­gi­cally min­i­mize pub­lic com­ment” by mov­ing all but 30 min­utes of pub­lic com­ment to the end of the meet­ing.

In­ten­tional or not, those who came to speak were not de­terred by the dis­jointed pub­lic com­ment ses­sion. Although some did leave af­ter the first half of the meet­ing, the room re­mained full. Some board mem­bers ap­peared dis­in­ter­ested in the speak­ers and were ob­served us­ing their phones dur­ing the cit­i­zen com­ments, oth­ers were anx­ious to ad­here to the twominute time limit im­posed, but for the most ex­changes be­tween speak­ers and the board re­mained re­spect­ful.

In an un­ex­pected move dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, the board voted to re­tain a sec­ond at­tor­ney, Su­sanne Hen­ley. Board at­tor­ney Rochelle Eisen­berg will con­tinue to pro­vide ser­vices said board Pres­i­dent, Jen­nifer Ge­orge, but the con­sen­sus of the board was that they had not been duly rep­re­sented by Eisen­berg at the pre­vi­ous meet­ing. Hen­ley, who prac­tices law in Cen­tre­ville with her firm Hen­ley and Hen­ley, is presently coun­sel for the Queen Anne’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Ethics Panel.

Eisen­berg is a mem­ber of the Mary­land law firm of Pessin Katz Law, P.A., and ac­cord­ing to her bio has prac­ticed ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment

law in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors since 1977, rep­re­sent­ing school sys­tems and em­ploy­ers through­out the state. She is a past pres­i­dent of the Mary­land Coun­cil of School At­tor­neys, has taught at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and pro­vided nu­mer­ous sem­i­nars on school and em­ploy­ment law. Eisen­berg has con­trib­uted to the Mary­land School Law Desk­book, the cur­rent and au­thor­i­ta­tive in­for­ma­tion on le­gal is­sues fac­ing Mary­land schools within the con­text of state and federal ed­u­ca­tion law.

Board mem­ber Cap­tain Beverly Kel­ley said, “I am very un­com­fort­able with the re­la­tion­ship [re­fer­ring to Hen­ley’s po­si­tion as coun­sel with the Board of Ethics] and am not cer­tain that this move will pro­vide us all with good le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

Ge­orge dis­agreed and the mo­tion was car­ried, three to two. Harper and Kel­ley voted against the mo­tion.

Mid-way through the evening’s meet­ing, the items of In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent and Su­per­in­ten­dent search were on the agenda. Again in a vote car­ried three to two, the board voted to ap­point Gre­gory Pilewski, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent as in­terim su­per­in­ten­dent. Pilewski has been with the Queen Anne’s County Pub­lic Schools since Au­gust 2015 serv­ing as as­sis­tant au­per­in­ten­dent for in­struc­tion ser­vices and school im­prove­ment.

Wil­liamson will re­main as Su­per­in­ten­dent un­til her con­tract ex­pires July 1, 2016. The po­si­tion of as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent re­mains va­cant at this time.

Board mem­ber Tammy Harper was tasked dur­ing the Feb. 17 meet­ing to re­search which agency might best be used to con­duct the search for su­per­in­ten­dent. Harper said the fig­ures ranged from $25,000 to $50,000 to so­licit help to con­duct the search. Wed­nes­day night, she rec­om­mended the board con­sider us­ing Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Boards of Ed­u­ca­tion (MABE).

MABE had been used by QACPS in prior searches and the board would need to al­lo­cate only $30,000 to use their ser­vices, Harper said.

Af­ter a brief re­cess, the meet­ing re­opened for pub­lic com­ment and con­tin­ued with many cit­i­zens thank­ing Wil­liamson for her ser­vices. Sev­eral apol­o­gized to Wil­liamson for the pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion caused by the board’s ac­tions. Res­i­dents asked for trans­parency and an­swers as to why the board elected not to re­new Wil­liamson’s con­tract.

“Duty, honor and re­spect. These are fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics we teach our chil­dren and we de­mand of our elected of­fi­cial,” Kris­ten Holocker read on be­half of her­self and fa­ther Bryan Holocker.

“You,” Holocker told the board, “swore an oath to de­fend the laws of the state, the guide­lines set forth for your pub­lic of­fice and to serve the peo­ple of Queen Anne’s County. Se­lect­ing the next su­per­in­ten­dent with­out any in­put from the com­mu­nity is ne­glect­ful and se­cret meet­ings and votes that vi­o­late the law, serve only to di­vide the com­mu­nity.”

Holocker con­tin­ued, “We de­mand re­spect of our­selves and form those elected by us. There are ba­sic prin­ci­ples [set forth] by our sys­tem to en­sure sta­bil­ity and peace ... but elected of­fi­cials do not have the right to threaten cit­i­zens or em­ploy­ees.”

Emily Cham­lee-Wright, provost and dean at Wash­ing­ton Col­lege, asked of the board, “What per­for­mance stan­dards was Dr. Wil­lam­son mea­sured to and found lack­ing?”

Cham­lee-Wright said it wasn’t for the board to dis­close per­son­nel mat­ters, but to as­sure the cit­i­zens of the county that there was mean­ing­ful ev­i­dence to war­rant their de­ci­sion.

“If we do not re­ceive an an­swer within 10 days, one could ar­gue the board’s ac­tions con­sti­tute a will­ful act of neg­li­gence and would con­sti­tute a need for re­moval.”

Cham­lee-Wright’s com­ments were based on prior dis­cus­sion with the board and cit­i­zens that change for the sake of change was not a rea­son to re­place a su­per­in­ten­dent, but the board had ar­gued there were foun­da­tional cracks that needed to be re­paired. One speaker called this rhetoric and de­manded that an ex­pla­na­tion be given to the pub­lic for the board’s rea­son­ing.

Cham­lee-Wright called for the board to make one act of courage by re­sign­ing their po­si­tion and give the op­por­tu­nity to al­low the county to move for­ward in a heal­ing way.

Those who spoke seemed to rep­re­sent the feel­ings of the ma­jor­ity who at­tended Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing. Frus­trated, dis­ap­pointed, dis­mayed at the in­jus­tice and lack of trans­parency were words that were oft re­peated in pub­lic com­ment. One speaker called the be­hav­ior of the board “egre­gious” and sug­gested the in­tegrity of mem­bers was lack­ing.

Some, who did not speak dur­ing the meet­ing, said else­where they thought the is­sue had been be­la­bored long enough and change might be over­due.

One speaker no­tice­ably be­came dis­cour­aged when board mem­bers were re­luc­tant to make eye con­tact with her.

Sev­eral speak­ers said that they were aware com­plaints had been filed with the school’s Board of Ethics and the Mary­land State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Wes Campbell said he had re­ceived in­for­ma­tion that the le­gal coun­sel for the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion had re­ceived those com­plaints and would be pur­su­ing the mat­ter.

Linda Austin, who par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey gen­er­ated by a group of con­cerned par­ents, said she had hoped the sur­vey, which was anony­mous, would re­veal some of the rea­son­ing be­hind why the board was stand­ing so firm in their de­ci­sion, but she saw noth­ing to jus­tify those ac­tions.

“Please lis­ten to us go­ing for­ward,” Austin asked the board, “and don’t al­low your­selves to pulled by the strings of a pup­pet master. You can re­place a su­per­in­ten­dent, but you can­not re­place Dr. Wil­liamson.”

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