Middle school leaders ousted

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Cape Girardeau school board won't rehire Central Middle School principal Frank Ellis and assistant principal Debbie Followell for the 2007-2008 school year.

The decision comes amid parental complaints about lack of communication and student discipline problems at the fifth- and sixth-grade center. Middle school PTA officials say the concerns have led some parents to enroll their children in parochial schools.

But school district officials refused to say Wednesday what led to the decision or how they want the school to be administered.

The board, behind closed doors Monday night, voted 5-2 to make the change in administration. The board action came at the recommendation of Cape Girardeau School District superintendent Dr. David Scala.

Board members Charles Bertrand and Tom Reinagel cast the dissenting votes. Bertrand said he and Reinagel voted against the recommendation because they felt Scala hadn't provided adequate documentation of the evaluation of the middle school administrators.

Without such information, Bertand said, he couldn't vote for administrative change. Reinagel couldn't be reached for comment.

Scala said, "We just felt it is time we have a new direction."

He declined to discuss the "new direction." Later Wednesday, he said, "I guess 'new direction' might be wrong. We feel like it is time for a change."

Both he and Steven Trautwein, who took over as school board president Monday night, refused to discuss the situation, citing personnel issues.

Trautwein said he wouldn't discuss what was said behind closed doors. "Any time a decision like this is made, it suggests something needs to be changed," he said.

Neither Ellis nor Followell returned telephone calls made to the middle school Wednesday.

Ellis has been employed with the district 19 years and Followell, seven years.

Ellis previously served as principal at the district's Alma Schrader Elementary School before being named to head the middle school when it opened in 2002.

Scala said both Ellis and Followell had to manage a school that involved a reorganization of grades.

Fifth- and sixth-graders were moved from the five elementary schools into the new middle school of nearly 600 students. Teachers who had taught at the five separate schools had to be combined into a single middle school staff.

"They were put into a difficult position and have worked hard at making it a good situation," Scala said.

"They are both good people," he said.

Scala said teachers and school district administrators will serve on a search committee as part of the hiring process of a new principal and assistant principal. He said he hopes to have the position filled by the end of the current school year.

Ellis and Followell are both tenured in the district. As such, they could request teaching positions in the school system, Scala said.

Dawn Begley, co-vice president of the Central Middle School PTA, said parents have complained repeatedly about student discipline problems and contended school administrators and staff do a poor job of communicating with families. In addition, she said, there's a lack of communication between the administration and teachers at the school.

Begley said some of the students are out of control. Students with discipline problems shouldn't be placed in regular classrooms where they disrupt the learning process, she said.

Begley said it's time for officials to look at the organization of the middle school and the other schools in the district before hiring building administrators. "I think it would be a great idea to have an open, public meeting with parents," she said.

At the very least, she said, the district should survey parents to find out what they think about school operations.

Brynda Dickson, co-vice president of the middle school PTA, said she was sorry the board decided not to rehire Ellis and Followell. "They have always been kind and helpful to me," said Dickson, who has a sixth-grade daughter in middle school. "I feel they have a strong love for the students."

School board member Sharon Mueller told the Southeast Missourian in February that bringing students together throughout the city was difficult. The school, she said, had gone through some growing pains.

But Mueller said teachers and administrators had addressed some of the discipline problems and that parents generally were happier with the school than when it first opened.

Dickson believes the situation has improved. "I thought we were making some progress," she said.

Dickson wonders whether whoever is hired to replace them will do any better.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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