Students and parents gather in support of fired principal

Monday, May 7, 2007
Ross Conner signed a petition with Mary Jackson on behalf of Central Middle School principal Frank Ellis, who visited with Sahara Aldridge and her mother, Amy, at Capaha Park on Sunday. (Fred Lynch)

The group gathered Sunday at the pavilion at Capaha Park said they came because they refuse to give up on the man who didn't give up on their sons and daughters.

A steady stream of children and parents took time yesterday to show support for fired Cape Girardeau Central Middle School principal Frank Ellis.

"He doesn't give up on children. It doesn't matter what kind of trouble these children get into, he teaches them what's wrong and what's right. He helps them keep their spirits up and shows them no one is just going to throw you out," said organizer Mary Jackson, who is a parent of two current middle school students and one former student.

As of 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jackson said she had collected more than 70 adult signatures on the petition asking school board members to reconsider the firing of Ellis and assistant principal Debbie Followell.

The group has collected more than 600 adult signatures total since the announcement of Ellis' firing April 10, Jackson said. The signatures will be presented at the upcoming Board of Education meeting.

Ellis stopped by the event to thank supporters, but was reluctant to speak about his situation.

Asked if he would fight for his job, he said simply: "No."

Asked why not, his only response was: "I can't answer that."

But Ellis opened up when asked about his philosophy in dealing with children.

"Kids need to know you care about them. That's the main thing. That's not just my philosophy, that's me," he said. "I care about everything that I do -- working with the kids, working with the parents. My heart is into whatever I do. That's the only way to fly."

Children present at the event said they believe in Ellis.

Natalia Johnson, 11, is in fifth grade and says she often goes to Ellis for advice on how to handle her parents' separation.

"He'll talk to me about it and listens to me and tell me how to deal with the situation," she said.

Johnson said in her class of 23 students nearly everyone is upset about the decision to fire Ellis.

"When I heard about it, I got really sad because he's the nicest principal I've had. A lot of people want Mr. Ellis to stay," she said.

Jason Rauh, 11, is a sixth-grader who says he wouldn't be graduating middle school without Ellis' support.

"I've missed like 20 days of school, and he's fighting for me to stay on track to get to seventh grade next year," Rauh said.

Robin Slinkard and daughter Kimberly, 10, came out to support Ellis. Kimberly said early this year she was having problems being bullied and asked Ellis to intervene. He talked with the boy doing the bullying, gave him a punishment and Kimberly has had no problems since.

"If they're comfortable with this man and things are going well, then why upset things?" asked Robin Slinkard.

Jackson, the organizer, said Ellis' firing will have consequences.

"Well, if the school board is not going to listen and they decide they need to get rid of him, then they'll be the next to go, and I will be running for school board," she said.

"I feel like they're not involving the community on an important decision that affects the community."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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