Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson’s announced transfers of five principals and nine assistant principals to different schools for next school year drew criticism Thursday evening in questions from several parents from one school and comments by one Board of Education member.
Those five transfers, when announced the last week of March, were in addition to one principal’s retiring and another’s having resigned. So at that point seven of the 15 schools were set to have different principals. More recently, Dr. Torian White, principal of Southeast Bulloch Middle School, confirmed that he has accepted the principal’s post at South Effingham High School, his alma mater.
So now, eight of Bulloch County’s public schools will have different principals for 2019-20.
But most – possibly all – of the parents who spoke during “public participation” time at Thursday’s BOE meeting were parents of Julia P. Bryant Elementary School students. Given three minutes each under the board’s rules, eight people took a turn at the microphone.
“My request to the superintendent and this board is to work towards creating a more effective culture of open discussion amongst all stakeholders, including parents, in our school system and transparency in the actions that will affect each of our children,” said Adam Brady, father of one child at JPB now and another headed to prekindergarten there.
As allowed in school administrators’ contracts, the superintendent can reassign them to other schools without a board vote. During the last several years, Wilson also has appointed assistant principals to serve as interim principals for up to a full year, but the board’s approval is required for a permanent promotion or to hire an administrator new to the system.
Hiring from within
Some of his transfers and interim appointments for 2019-20 fill vacancies, which in turn created other vacancies.
With Statesboro High School Principal Dr. Ken LeCain retiring and SHS Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Chad Prosser promoted to take his place with board approval, Wilson has reassigned Portal Middle High School Principal Patrick Hill to Statesboro High as athletic director and assistant principal. As previously reported, Hill welcomed this new job.
In train with that move, Wilson also transferred Julia P. Bryant Elementary School Principal Dr. Julie Blackmar to be Portal Middle High’s new principal, and transferred Assistant Principal Justin Chester from JPB to PMHS as well. All of these moves are effective July 1.
In a previous statement Wilson said he makes “an intentional effort to balance needs with leadership capacity” and wants “to provide leadership opportunities for administrators and match skills with current challenges." But Brady and others said they want reasons for specific changes.
“I understand that the transfers were done at the discretion of the superintendent, but I would like an explanation as to why these changes were made,” Brady told the board. “How does the superintendent feel that these changes will improve the classroom experience for all students at schools affected by the transfers?”
Abbie Lacienski, mother of two students, is a former Bulloch County Schools central-office department director. She was one of two or three parents who mentioned the timing of the transfers as an added source of anxiety at school in relation to the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, or GMAS. Spring-administered Milestones tests occur near a statewide deadline for administrator contracts.
“My understanding has been that as board members, the ability to vote on employee transfers, since they are considered neither promotions nor demotions, is beyond your current purview,” Lacienski said. “However, when a superintendent announces 14 administrative moves, days before the GMAS no less, I hope that enough and the needed questions have been posed to the superintendent and sufficiently answered.”
Jennifer Tookes, mother of two children attending JPB Elementary, said her family arrived in Bulloch County a little over three years ago.
“I was told from the time that I arrived that our schools are in a bit of flux, that there is a constant change and turnover in the administrative staff, and when we started our children at Julia P. I was happy to see that was not the case – until very recently, where we’re losing two of our three administrators,” she said.
Tookes, who mentioned Blackmar by name, was one of several parents who indicated that they were happy with the established leadership at JPB Elementary.
“I am confused as to why such dramatic changes can be made at the decision of one individual with no transparency,” Tookes said. “Perhaps these are great changes. Perhaps they’re not. None of us know.”
She also thanked District 4 BOE member April Newkirk for comments rejecting “change for the sake of change.” Newkirk had actually been first to speak on this topic, during board member comments.
“Administrators are often overlooked as the heart and soul of a building, and I think that they create a climate and a community and a culture within,” Newkirk had said, in a longer statement. “I think change is necessary many times, but I think change for the sake of change and at the scope and scale that we’ve grown accustomed to, I don’t think that that’s necessary.”
Interrupted by applause, she continued, “And I know that our superintendent does not take these choices and make these decisions lightly. I know that a lot goes into them, but I am here to plead that the next time that we do have to look at change that we look at it through a different lens.”
Not heard from in all of this was Blackmar, who was reassigned by Wilson effective July 2014 from Nevils Elementary to be principal of Julia P. Bryant, and so has been there five years. She replied in an email Saturday to the Statesboro Herald’s request for comment on her latest transfer, to be principal of Portal Middle High School.
“I look forward to working with the faculty, families and students of Portal,” Blackmar wrote. “I live in the Portal area, and my son graduated from PMHS last year. As such, I already consider myself a Panther.
“I am saddened, however, to leave Julia P. Bryant,” she continued. “I have greatly enjoyed my time here as principal. It is a remarkable place and with the amazing teacher leaders here and the strong parental involvement, its success will continue.”
Also effective July 1, Wilson has transferred Langston Chapel Elementary School Principal Pam Goodman to replace Blackmar as principal at JPB.
“I have known Pam Goodman since we first worked together 12 years ago,” Blackmar stated in the email. “She is an outstanding educator who has the knowledge and expertise to help lead JPBES to even higher heights.”
At Thursday’s meeting, BOE Chairman Mike Sparks had first read the board’s public comment policy, which allows comments on topics “other than specific student or individual matters” and states that “personnel concerns may be addressed in writing to the superintendent or chairman.”
After the eight had spoken, Sparks said, “I would like to thank all the parents for coming and speaking as well,” and asked those with specific questions to email them to the board.
After the meeting, Wilson said he wants to address parents’ concerns for more transparency and will review the matter while seeking a way to do that.
“I’m going to attempt to, and I understand why people are upset and how people may perceive me,” he said. “I respect how they may see it, and I understand that people are frustrated. I would love to explain and answer every question.
“Out of respect to the privacy of people and matters that are inherent to my responsibility and duties as the superintendent, it’s difficult to be able to explain everything,” Wilson continued. “I do respect their frustration and I would like to figure out a way we can communicate, but I also know that I won’t be able to share all of the details and everything they might want to hear.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.