Friday, October 07, 2011

TOP STORY > >Principal is back on job

Leader staff writer

The reinstatement of Lonoke High School’s principal was met with approval from people who knew, but were not told, why he was suspended with pay on Aug. 25.

Officials kept silent until now about the reason for Phynaus Wilson’s suspension pending school board action. But an unconfirmed rumor that circulated in the small town via Facebook proved true.

The rumor was that Superintendent John Tackett asked Wilson to let outside consultants observe classes at the high school and the two disagreed on bringing in those consultants.

The district’s lawyer, Donn Mixon, released a statement Wednesday explaining that Tackett has withdrawn his recommendation to the school board that Wilson be terminated for refusing to cooperate with the district’s school-improvement consultant.

Wilson, who has spent 24 of his 34-year career in education serving the district and worked his way up from coaching to administration, told faculty Wednesday that he was suspended for refusing to work with a consulting firm the superintendent had recommended.

Wilson told the faculty Wed-nesday, “I have greatly admired the strong foundation and positive environment the district provides for the students, parents, employees and community it serves…I was wrong in refusing to work with the consultant as directed by Dr. Tackett.

“These actions were regrettable and I take full responsibility for them. Based on my unqualified commitment to fully implement the policies of the board and Dr. Tackett’s directives to the best of my ability, Dr. Tackett and I have agreed that I will return to Lonoke High School as principal, effective immediately.”

The community was shocked months by Wilson’s suspension. Students protested, demanding his return to the school. Many residents turned to Facebook as an outlet for their reaction to the shake-up.

The info section for a Face-book page titled “Front Street Lonoke” read, “Since the news about Coach Wilson broke, a lot of discussion took place. Some were at church, some were on the telephone, and a great deal happened on a few of the Facebook pages that were started in support of Coach Wilson. It seemed most people were in favor of bringing back Coach Wilson.

“However, when the topic turned to Dr. Tackett, disagreements arose, and pages were either closed, or disagreeing posts (along with their authors) were deleted. That won’t happen here. Feel free to talk about what’s going on in our town. Just try to keep it respectful.”

Responses to his reinstatement posted on the page include, “The problem was that when you work a job, no matter the job, you have to follow directions, period. There is always a higher power, especially around the school house. As I have said many times in the past, these folks need our prayers,” and “Maybe the almighty superintendent wont be so quick in the future to try to fire people just because they don’t agree with him.”

Other posts read, “Yeah! It will be good to have him back!” and “Yay!!!! way to go Wilson.”

The only negative comment said, “Too bad.”

Wilson’s argument against working with the firm was that the school had made improvements in student achievement over the last few years.

The district has been on the state’s school improvement list for four years.

Lonoke’s Bench-mark scores for algebra and biology have dropped significantly over the past five years, while literacy scores have skyrocketed and geometry has stayed the same.

Forty percent of Lonoke students scored proficient or advanced in biology for 2009, but that dropped to 27 percent in 2010 and to 22 percent this year. Algebra was up and down, going from 69 percent scoring advanced or proficient in 2009 to 79 percent in 2010 and 63 percent this year.

Meanwhile, 49 percent scored advanced or proficient in literacy for 2009. That score went up to 64 percent in 2010 and is at 71 percent now.

Advanced and proficient geometry scores were 66 percent in 2009, 70 percent in 2010 and are at 68 percent this year.

The school board held a special meeting for personnel on Aug. 22, days before the suspension was announced. Members went into executive decision, but did not vote on a personnel-related decision.

They voted to move forward with the current school-improvement process. Tackett explained that for the past three years the district has used L&M Educational Consulting of Florida to train administrators and building leaders on how to observe classroom instruction and give productive feedback.

The district is revising its school-improvement plan, which must be turned in to the state Education Department this month, Tackett said.

Posts made on the page after the news of his suspension broke also claimed teachers were told to keep quiet. One response to a reporter asking for someone to go on record with a reason for the action stated, “Under threat of suspension? Hmmmmm... No free speech here.”

Another sentiment echoed online and in the city was frustration at being kept in the dark.

Mixon, the district’s attorney, issued a statement then that read, “I have directed the administration of the district not to share any further information about this matter. The reasons for this action are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act until such time as the school board action is completed.”

The statement also said Wilson had 30 days to request a hearing before the board, which he could have requested be public or private, but any vote by the board would be public information. Neither school board action nor a hearing will be necessary now.