by Susan Dickson
Carrboro High School teachers and parents say they donâ€™t understand Superintendent Neil Pedersenâ€™s recent decision to replace Principal Jeff Thomas and that district administrators owe them more of an explanation.
The district announced June 18 that Thomas has been reassigned to the districtâ€™s central office and that Rodney Trice, the districtâ€™s director of curriculum and instruction, would serve as interim principal. The release announcing the change did not indicate why Thomas was being replaced.
Thomas served as principal of Carrboro High since 2006 and opened the school last August. Prior to his work at Carrboro High, Thomas served as assistant principal at Chapel Hill High School.
Parents were notified of Thomasâ€™ replacement in a phone message, while faculty received an email. Some parents and teachers have come out in support of Thomasâ€™ performance at the school and want to know why administrators replaced him.
Pedersen said his decision was based on unsolicited feedback from staff and parents, as well as the results of surveys that indicated both students and teachers were unhappy with their experiences at Carrboro High. Pedersen said survey results influenced his decision to replace Thomas, in that he used them to either confirm or refute individual perceptions. He said his decision was also based on his work with Thomas, as he and other central office staff had worked closely with Thomas over the past two years.
Both parents and faculty members said they have requested more information regarding Thomasâ€™ reassignment from district administrators, but have been told personnel information cannot be released.
In addition, according to Tom Brown, chair of the Carrboro High science department, faculty members were told Thomas would not be able to speak with them if they tried to contact him.
Under North Carolina personnel law, public schools are required to provide limited information regarding personnel, including date of employment, salary increases or decreases, promotion and demotion information and an employeeâ€™s current office or station. However, administrators can choose to release additional information only when it is â€œessential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of [the employerâ€™s] services or to maintaining the level and quality of [the employerâ€™s] services.â€
Mark Barroso, parent of a rising sophomore at Carrboro High, said he had few interactions with Thomas and didnâ€™t know whether he was a good principal or not, but wanted to know why he was replaced.
â€œMy beef is with how Neil Pedersen keeps parents in the dark about major personnel decisions at all the schools,â€ he said. â€œIn all of the schools that my daughter has been in, the principals have left for various reasons and parents never know why. Weâ€™re left to guess and imagine what the reasons are.â€
Barrosoâ€™s daughter has attended Frank Porter Graham Elementary School, Culbreth Middle School and Carrboro High. Each of those schoolsâ€™ principals changed while she was there.
â€œItâ€™s a major thing to change principals at a school. It affects every aspect of that school,â€ he said. â€œFor us to not know whatâ€™s going on, I think, is just troubling.â€
Pat Lewis, former chair of the English department at Carrboro High, said she resigned her position because she had been told by district administrators in the spring that Thomas would be given more time as principal to grow and develop the new school, but later learned he would be replaced.
â€œI had trouble believing anything that anybody was going to tell me,â€ she said.
Lewis said eight of nine Carrboro High department heads requested to speak with district administrators prior to Thomasâ€™ replacement, but were denied.
There were several documented incidents in the high schoolâ€™s first year, including a dispute over a no-hat policy and a fight among three students caused by one studentâ€™s racially-charged comments.
Jan Gottschalk, a journalism teacher at Carrboro High, said that despite the difficulties the school had really found its stride by the end of the year.
â€œI left for spring break with this very positive feeling that things were turning around,â€ she said, citing a meeting with district administrators.
â€œMr. Thomas really did listen to students when they wanted to make changes,â€ she said. â€œStudents saw that change could be made. It was a wonderful learning experience.â€
Gottschalk and other teachers said the high school student climate survey used by district administrators was administered in January, and that students were much happier at their new high school later in the year. The climate survey indicated that students at Carrboro High were less happy at their school than students at the districtâ€™s other two high schools.
By the end of the school year, Gottschalk said, â€œthe feelings had changed greatly.â€
Ellen Medearis, parent of Molly Superfine, Carrboro Highâ€™s co-president, said Thomas was a good principal, and that some students and teachers werenâ€™t used to his disciplinary style of administration.
â€œHeâ€™s a man of his word,â€ she said. â€œHeâ€™s a man of principle.â€
Medearis added that opening a new school is hard for administrators, teachers and students, and that the decision to replace Thomas was hasty.
â€œI think that one year of a school being open â€¦ is not enough to make that kind of a judgment,â€ she said.
Parents of Carrboro High students have also expressed concern about recent notifications that several advanced placement and honors courses would not be offered at Carrboro High next year because of a lack of enrollment.
â€œTheyâ€™ve cut a lot of the AP courses at Carrboro High, so thereâ€™s this brain drain thatâ€™s happening,â€ Barroso said. â€œA lot of the best and the brightest are transferring out, making Carrboro a mediocre school.â€
Courses that have been cut include AP chemistry, AP physics, AP human geography, honors biology II, honors physics, AP Latin, AP German, German III, German IV, AP Spanish literature and AP French.
Carrboro High students can take courses not offered at Carrboro High at the districtâ€™s other two high schools but must provide their own transportation. Some parents and students are considering requesting transfer to another high school where the courses are offered.
Barroso said he is concerned that the transfers will cause the academics at the school to deteriorate.
â€œI think if affects every student when the cream of the crop goes to another school,â€ he added. â€œItâ€™s all part of the academic culture at the school.â€
by Susan Dickson