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Tensions rise at county school board meeting

“I will give you due respect, when you give others due respect.” -Kenny Hall

The Madison County School Board met Tuesday, March 3 at 6 p.m. Before the meeting was brought to order, School Superintendent, Doug Brown, presented certificates to the District Spelling Bee champions. Charlene Medders won the District Spelling Bee for Madison County and Abigayle Reeves won second place. Brown also presented a certificate to the fourth grade winner, Riley Browning. Runner-up, Talyric Bonner wasn't present to receive a certificate. Next, Chairman Kenny Hall called the meeting to order and the agenda was approved. Doug Brown presented the first item of business, which was the approval of student and staff trips. The first trip in question was a trip including four students to the regional science fair from March 31st to April 3rd. Brown asked that three staff members accompany them. The next trip in question involved sending 12 personnel from Madison County Central, both teachers and staff members, to attend the Capturing Kids' Hearts training in Pensacola, March 11-13. According to The Flippen Group, an organization dedicated to the success of schools, Capturing Kids' Hearts is a “three-day off-site learning experience that provides tools for administrators, faculty and staff to build positive, productive and trusting relationships — among themselves and with their students. These processes can transform the classroom and campus environment, paving the way for high performance.” Some of the training program's outcomes include: • Developing safe, trusting, self-managing classrooms. • Improving classroom attendance by building students' motivation and helping them take responsibility for their actions and performance. • Decreasing delinquent behaviors such as disruptive outbursts, violent acts, drug use and other risky behavior. • Utilizing the EXCEL Model™ and reinforcing the role of emotional intelligence in teaching. • Developing students' empathy for diverse cultures and backgrounds. “We were offered 18 scholarships [from The Flippen Group] for this event,” said Superintendent Brown. “However, we are going to send 12 as opposed to 18. The rest of the funding for this trip would come from the grant at the Central School.” After Brown presented the trips, board member, Bart Alford, expressed his concerns for staff members being absent for three instructional days so close to the FCAT. Kenny Hall then took the floor, asking what the benefits were for the teachers and staff members to attend the conference so close to the FCAT. In response, Chief Academic Officer, James Mills, stated: “This is one of the components that the Core Leadership Team at Central has selected under the school improvement grant, to improve social and behavioral aspects.” Mills noted that Escambia has selected the program for their entire county due to the program's benefits. Mills and Superintendent Brown repeated the perks of the training program and iterated that it would be a step in the right direction. “It's for the good of the school, it's an investment in the school approval process...I think they [Madison Central] have a good thing going...it will contribute to the school culture that is improving dramatically,” said Brown. “This is a very good investment in what we're trying to accomplish in this district and at this school.” Bart Alford proceeded to make the motion to pass the school trips, with the condition that certified teachers are available to cover the attendees' classes. Susie Williamson made a second. Karen Pickles, Bart Alford and Susie Williamson raised their hands in favor, and Kenny Hall and VeEtta Hagan disapproved. However, the motion passed, 3-2. After the vote, Superintendent Brown assured the board that certified teachers would be put in place during the attendees' absence. Kenny Hall interrupted, stating, “Let me explain my vote. I don't doubt there will be certified teachers to take over. My vote was that they don't need to leave right before the FCAT; it just doesn't look good, I mean really. It might be the greatest trip in the world, but we need our teachers-- I'd rather them go in the summer.” In agreement with Hall, VeEtta Hagan stated, “That's fine. Right before the FCAT.” James Mills began to explain why the trip was necessary, but was cut short by Hall and VeEtta Hagan who began to speak at once. “That's why our school is not improving,” stated Hagan. In defense of the Madison School district and Madison Central School, Superintendent Doug Brown promptly asserted, “That school is improving,” but was cut short by Hagan's response, “...but not fast enough!” James Mills began to brag on the district's improvements, stating he was interested to see what the board would think when they see the next report on the schools' progress. “In fact, Greenville has had the biggest improvement in the whole district, followed by Pinetta, Lee and Central,” stated Mills. “It's time for this board to start celebrating the advancements that are being made in this district; it is sickening to come here every board meeting and hear you guys complain every time.” Hagan cut Mills short, promptly replying, “Excuse me? We are the board! Let me just tell you something now, we are the board and you are hired by us. You don't chastise me in public about what we do as the board. We are elected by the people, Mr. Mills. You don't live here, you don't vote here and you don't pay taxes here!” “I do live here, vote here and pay taxes here,” replied Mills, to which Hagan responded, “Well that's fine but you will not chastise me, so when you direct that stuff, direct it to other board members, not me!” Ms. Hagan continued to argue, however Chairman Kenny Hall, pounded the gavel and brought the disturbance back to order. The fact remained: the motion was already passed and there was no need to discuss the matter further. However, Hagan, among others, began to question the teacher selection process for the trip, despite the fact the motion was already passed. Superintendent Brown assured the board and the assembly, “Dr. Miles is the principal of Madison County Central School. He is the one I trust to select the team that he wants to go; I believe, with everything I've got, that he has the students' best interests at heart. He is going to pick people for the leadership team who have devoted themselves to the improvement of that school and they are going out there [to the Capturing Kids' Hearts training] and they're going to bring that back where it will become a building block for the school-- the continuing improvement of that school, I might add, because they are improving in many ways.” While his statement wasn't enough to cease Hagan's disturbances, the meeting finally switched gears. The next business item was two-fold; the first part included the approval of student trips including a trip to the State Science Fair and one to Skate Land. The items were approved, providing the students attending the Skate Land trip raise their own funds. The second part included the approval of the Madison Sheriff's office to use the school district's facilities in order to hold a special training session to prepare in case of a school shooting. The motion was passed, providing the training session take place when staff and students are not present. Next, Ray Griffin presented the monthly financial report, and the board addressed minor business items including personnel changes. However, the meeting grew heated again when Willie Williams, Chief Operations Officer, approached the board about advertising for non-instructional positions due to personnel changes such as the resignation of a secretary, as well as a staff member at Lee Elementary. A motion was made by Susie Williamson and Bart Alford made a second. However, before the board could vote, out of curiosity, board member Karen Pickles asked Willie Williams how many instructional vacancies there were. He stated there was a resignation at Greenville, a position at Central, as well as a vacancy at the High School. After Williams answered Pickle's query, VeEtta Hagan asked whether or not the board had voted to advertise the previously mentioned instructional positions. Kenny Hall explained to Hagan that, technically, they don't have to ask the board to advertise instructional or non-instructional positions; that it is a courtesy to the board. Hagan proceeded to accuse Hall of changing what the board had voted on in the past, to which he retorted wasn't so. While Hagan proceeded to raise her voice, Hall stated, “Every time somebody says something, you are the most negative person I have ever met,” to which she replied, “So when I ask a question, I'm negative?” Hall clarified that he was merely trying to explain to Hagan that the board technically doesn't have to be approached for permission to advertise for positions, that it is merely for the board's pleasure that they be informed. Hagan retorted, “When I ask a question, don't you ever holler at me again-- it is my due respect and your due respect as chairman!” Hall replied, “I will give you due respect when you give others due respect.” Ms. Hagan remarked, “I may not say what you want me to say; you will never put words in my mouth, I don't like it! I am a board member elected for the district just like you and I can represent my district! You are the most negative chairman of this board and you want to ruin everything!” The yelling match was interrupted by board member, Susie Williamson, who reminded everyone of the motion and second still on the table to approve advertising for the non-instructional vacancies. Hagan took offense, stating that board discussion was allowed. “Are you saying that I can't ask a question?” asked Hagan. “I'm going to keep asking questions and you're going to keep feeling the way that you want. I don't care!” Chairman Kenny Hall interrupted her outburst and proceeded to call the members to vote. The motion passed unanimously. The meeting was concluded with a presentation on construction project updates and funding considerations. Due to rising tensions and repeated confrontations, the board unanimously agreed it was vitally important a workshop take place in order to discuss board relationships with each other, the Superintendent and the administration. The meeting was scheduled for Thursday, March 5 at 6 p.m.

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