UPDATED | May 14, 4:30 p.m.
RIDGWAY – The dysfunction that has lately convulsed the Ridgway School District over the fate of popular Secondary School Principal Jim Bob Hobbs was on full display at an acrimonious Ridgway School Board meeting on Monday night.
At issue was whether Hobbs, whose contract was non-renewed in a controversial vote of 4-1 by the school board late last month, had gone through the proper channels of notification before taking several sick days last week, leaving the secondary school without an acting administrator in the building.
Newly hired Interim Superintendent Steve Smith was out of town, but worked remotely to tap secondary school science teacher Chuck Siefkin (who has an administrator’s license) to become acting head administrator of the Secondary School until the end of the school year.
This decision upset many of Siefkin’s students, who are suddenly faced with the prospect of a substitute teacher in core science classes as they head into finals week.
Several parents attended Monday’s meeting to express dismay over the recent void in administrative leadership at the school, and at the fact that Siefkin was pulled out of the classroom to fill that void.
Cheryl Darcy, a parent of two secondary school students, said she was deeply concerned that the best interests of the students were not being addressed by the board.
“Your decisions are not just impacting the careers of these administrators; they are impacting our kids,” Darcy said.
Siefkin “is one of the best teachers we have in this school,” she continued. “He is an amazing, gifted teacher. He teaches very challenging subjects; how do you expect a substitute to fill in for him in the classroom? It is irresponsible to ask him to fill in. You have to find someone else to do that, so that he can remain in the classroom and do what’s best for our kids.”
Another mother echoed Darcy’s concern. “The disruption of all of this mayhem that has been going on for last month is appalling to me,” she said. “All of the kids are completely upset and feeling very insecure. You have created a mess for them. I am sure it could be handled in a different way; I know from what I am seeing it wasn’t handled very well.”
Ridgway School Board President Roger Sagal promised to work with Smith and Siefkin on an acceptable schedule covering both instructional and administrative needs at the secondary school through the end of the school year.
Hobbs’ absence from school last week left many parents wondering if he was told to step down before the end of the school year.
Sagal clarified that it was not the school board’s intent for either Gomez or Hobbs to abandon their posts prematurely. He confirmed that Gomez is in fact still working for the district (although she has not attended a school board meeting for the past two months, since the issue over Hobbs’ contract non-renewal exploded).
Sagal also stressed that Hobbs was still employed by the district, although Hobbs himself expressed uncertainty at the meeting over his employment status, stating that his school email account was shut down last Thursday.
“I would like to know where I stand for the last three weeks of the school year – what role am I fulfilling, if any?” he asked the board.
Sagal advised Hobbs to ask Smith to answer that question.
It became apparent, in the ensuing discussion, that Hobbs was not in communication with Gomez or Smith about whether he was officially taking sick days last week or about whether – or when – he would return to work.
Hobbs pronounced himself confused about the district chain of command. “Who’s here?” he asked. “I don’t know where Cheryl is; Steve is out of town. I thought it was well within my purview, if I needed to take a sick day, I could take a sick day. Does it mean I was abandoning ship? By no means. In my opinion it is not fair to say I have abandoned ship because I missed three days.”
Board member Greg Lawler expressed doubt over whether Hobbs had in fact been sick, and said that Gomez reported to the board that Hobbs had not been forthcoming with her about the reason for his time off.
“That would be a lie,” Hobbs said.
“You reported to Miss Gomez that you were sick, yes or no?” Lawler said, his voice rising.
Hobbs clarified he had reported to a school secretary, not Gomez.
“This isn’t a trial,” protested Boardmember Bart Skalla, a staunch Hobbs supporter, as Lawler continued to berate the principal. Audience members jumped into the fray, accusing Lawler of behaving in a way that was “totally inappropriate.”
Sagal tried to rein in the impending chaos, rising to his to his feet and slamming a book on the table. “I am going to stop the meeting if we don’t stop talking,” he said. “Folks, you may be witnessing a very difficult time of transition, but you also may be witnessing a little bit of why the changes that are being made are being made, and why the administrative team currently in place will not be in place next year, because for two years there has been nothing more than blame and lack of communication and a lack of focus on what we are actually here for – the students. This free-for-all is over, and we are moving on. We are going to get this school back on solid footing and we are going to deal with the turmoil in the best way we possibly can. In terms of coming here and having these disputes and fights, I am done.”
HANDLING OF STUDENT PROTEST CALLED INTO QUESTION
Several students attending Monday’s meeting were involved in a student protest on Thursday and Friday, last week, in which they rallied in support of Hobbs and demanded a greater voice in the decisions that are being made in the district.
The grandmother of two of these students spoke out at the meeting, suggesting that Gomez had responded to the demonstration in an unreasonably heavy-handed manner, sending students out of the school building to demonstrate outdoors and not properly notifying parents about what was happening with their children.
Gomez told The Watch that she gave the students the choice to either go to class or leave the school building, and confirmed that Ridgway Town Marshal David Scott came to the school to help address the situation. “The marshal and I decided that they could peacefully protest at the flagpole,” she said.
Several students continued to protest the next day as well, and served an in-school suspension Monday, prior to Monday’s school board meeting, which they attended
School Boardmember Steve Larivee welcomed the students’ desire to become more involved.
“We are very supportive of you having a voice in what goes on at the school,” he said, urging them to organize a student advisory committee.
In other business on Monday, the board unanimously approved a 2 percent salary increase for school employees for the 2014-2015 school year, and gave a collective thumbs-up to a number of new hires that were recommended by Superintendent Gomez.
PETITION CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF BOARD
On the heels of Monday’s meeting, several concerned parents of Ridgway Secondary School students are circulating an online petition calling for “the immediate resignation of the entire Ridgway School Board” and “kicking off the process of electing a new board.”
“The latest actions of the board at yesterday’s meeting only reaffirm that they need to be told that their conduct is detrimental to the present and future state of our school system,” said Eric Darcy, who drafted the petition, titled “Clean Slate: Let’s Replace the Entire Ridgway School Board” (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/clean-slate-lets-replace-the-entire-ridgway).
As of press time, the petition had 33 signatures. One who signed is Jim Bob Hobbs.
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PUBLISHED on May 13, 8:44 a.m.:
RIDGWAY – The dysfunction that has lately convulsed the Ridgway School District was on full display at a Ridgway School Board meeting on Monday night, which devolved into a yelling match between board members, parents and Secondary School Principal Jim Bob Hobbs as students watched on in dismay.
At issue was whether Hobbs had gone through the proper channels of notification before taking several sick days, leaving the secondary school without an acting administrator in the building.
With newly hired interim superintendent Steve Smith out of town on a trip to the East Coast that he had organized before accepting the position with Ridgway School District, it was unclear who was ultimately calling the shots in the building, and in the district.
Smith worked remotely to cobble together a plan for secondary school science teacher Chuck Siefkin (who has an administrator’s license) to step out of his classroom and become acting head administrator of the Secondary School until the end of the school year, in Hobbs’ absence.
This move has upset many of Siefkin’s students, who are suddenly faced with a substitute teacher in core science classes, just as they are heading into finals week.
At Monday’s meeting, it became apparent that the board was out of the loop regarding the current status of Hobbs employment – and whether Smith has placed him on administrative leave, or even has the right to do so without the board’s approval.
Hobbs said that his school email account was disconnected late last week.
The situation was exacerbated by the alleged mishandling of a peaceful student protest over Hobbs’s contract non-renewal last Thursday and Friday. Parents demanded to know whether outgoing superintendent Cheryl Gomez, who has resigned but is still working for the district in the transition period as Smith takes the reins, would be held accountable for her heavy-handed response to the protest, in which she enlisting the aid of Ridgway Marshal David Scott to force the protesting students to leave school property without properly notifying parents about what was happening.
Several of the students involved in the protest attended Monday’s meeting, and said they felt that they were “treated like criminals,” in sharp contrast to the feeling of safety and security they said Hobbs fostered in the school.
Cheryl Darcy, a parent of two secondary school students, said she was deeply concerned that “the best interest of the students is not being addressed by the board.”
In particular, she expressed dismay over the recent void in administrative leadership at the school and the fact that Siefkin was pulled out of the classroom to fill that void.
“The decisions you guys are making, you don’t realize the impact you are having,” Darcy said. “Your decisions are not just impacting the careers of administrators; they are impacting our kids.”
Another parent echoed Darcy’s concern. “The disruption of all of this mayhem that has been going on for last month is appalling to me,” she said. “All of the kids are completely upset and feeling very insecure. You have created a mess for them. I am sure it could be handled in a different way; I know from what I am seeing it wasn’t handled very well.”
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