July 2, 2008

Ouster of Principal Irks Carrboro Parents

By Matt Dees, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Jul. 2--CARRBORO -- Some Carrboro High School parents are outraged by the ouster of the school's principal and removal of nearly a dozen advanced courses from the curriculum.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Neil Pedersen said the courses were cut because of low demand, but he has asked administrators to look into possibly adding some back next year. Carrboro High School didn't have a senior class this year, making its enrollment much lower than that of the district's other two high schools.

Personnel privacy laws prevent Pedersen from disclosing why Principal Jeff Thomas was reassigned a week after the school year ended, he said. But Pedersen said he and school board members have heard from a number of parents who felt "blindsided" by Thomas' being transferred to a yet-to-be-determined central office job.

The move was "in the best interest of the school," Pedersen said.

In response to concerns that the school system acted without asking parents, Pedersen said surveys this past year sufficed.

In one, a majority of faculty members disagreed that there is "an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect," that school leaders "shield teachers from disruptions" and that "teachers are protected from duties that interfere with their essential role of educating students."

In another, one in four students described school morale as negative.

Several parents interviewed praised Thomas, a former assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School, for being hands-on, learning students' names and attending after-hours events.

"My child wants to know why the principal was fired when my child saw how hard he worked," said Mary Hamilton, a member of the School Improvement Team who called an emergency meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the school's problems. "We were just getting rolling, and now I feel like we've had the rug jerked out from under us."

The removal of many high-level language and science courses stoked the flames.

"We have a man who built the school, who gave it its life, gave it its personality," said Dotty Setliff, whose son resisted being transferred to Carrboro High last year but came to embrace the school and Thomas' enthusiasm.

"And the next guy that comes in says, 'I don't know you, you don't know me, but we're going to reduce A.P. classes,' " she added, referring to interim principal Rodney Trice, who also is the district's executive director of curriculum and instruction.

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