The best place to unravel the dilemma is at the beginning.
Prospect School District #59 is little different from any number of other schools located in tiny communities. One physical location; yet dwindling enrollment. As a result, they decided to become a “charter school” to attract students from other areas without having to receive permission for the transfer.
That move, led to a situation where the district ended up with a School Board and also a “Charter School Board”. They each have different responsibilities. One has charge over the physical assets of the district, the other controls policy of the charter school. This will probably be confusing, until you think that most charter schools are a school within a much larger district. In that case it’s easy to see that the charter board would have control of operation of a single school, but not the district itself.
Having two boards is not the problem, however it does lead to confusion in Prospect.
Complaints have arisen concerning principal Jennifer Pettit, who replaced former principal, Wayne Gallagher. According to parents, Pettit told three students during the first day of classes in September, that there was little use in them attending classes because they were so far behind. Another student, a teen-age mom, was told that Prospect schools didn’t need her kind there and forcefully told her to get off the property or she would call the cops.
School employee Terry Cryts said she initially liked Pettit, but noticed a pattern of abusive behavior to students, especially female. It wasn’t long after that that Cryts own daughter was involved in an incident that landed her on the wrong side of Pettit.
Cryts’ daughter was in the office, speaking with her brother when Pettit came in and issued her a suspension for two days following a confrontation. So Ms. Cryts attended the football game two days later, expecting to sing the national anthem as part of the cheer squad. She was pulled from the field and told that she was not to be there. Another incident in the office turned very unpleasant quickly and the last straw was that the same student was removed from the basketball team amidst a tirade by Pettit in front of other students. Terry Cryts decided at that point that to remove her daughter from Prospect schools and transfer her to Eagle Point. In doing so, her daughter gave up being the class valedictorian at Prospect, a sacrifice Cryts said she did not take lightly.
Cryts’ transfer is one of several from Prospect schools this year. According so Sandy Thompson, who had four children enrolled, there have been as many as 25 students who have left Prospect for Eagle Point or other schools. Of Thompson’s four children, three have moved on to other schools, leaving her oldest daughter at Prospect.
But Thompson’s daughter was involved with Pettit, too. She was accused of bullying her best friend. Sandy Thompson said that incident has led to other incidents, such as withholding a school transcript needed for college enrollment.
The list of complaints goes on, but unusual is the fact that Prospect parents have taken the matter a step further and filed charges with the Teacher’s Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC). This is serious business. The Independent has copies of several of the complaints. They range from unequal treatment of students, rude and abusive behavior, failure to involve parents in disciplinary discussions with students, the lack of written policy and procedures and failure to communicate safety issues. Parents are also concerned that they are being “stonewalled” when they communicate with either Pettit or Superintendent Don Alexander about these issues. Alexander has been quoted elsewhere as saying that board policies have been followed correctly, but mistakes do happen.
In addition to the mass exodus of students (reportedly 25 of 259), there have been incidents with teachers, who parents say have left because of Pettit. Alexander has publicly stated that the teachers have left for family reasons and as a result of normal retirements.
Charter board member and chair, Lois Holland, said during the Feb. 27 meeting that “it takes everyone working together” to make to the school work properly. Holland has demonstrated during a lifetime of caring for children that she stands behind what she says.
Board policies, such as limiting public input at Charter Board meetings, have left parents frustrated, feeling they have little alternative but to file charges with TSPC. Apparently, a hearing will be conducted by TSPC either in the spring or early summer. Parents say that charges were filed against Pettit in 2004, but were dropped when the school in question closed.
By Ralph McKechnie
For the Independent