Principal transfers protested School board meeting is tumultuous

June 11, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

At a tumultuous Howard County school board meeting last evening, more than 150 parents and students from two high schools angrily protested the transfers of popular principals and their assistants.

The contingents of parents and students from Mount Hebron and Centennial high schools also got into a shouting match with each other over the transfers.

At one point, Centennial Assistant Principal William Davis said: "Let's get our students out of here. It's getting ugly."

The tumult caused an agitated school board Chairman Dana Hanna to twice adjourn the meeting that lasted nearly two hours.

"The crowd is intimidating," Mr. Hanna yelled before the second adjournment, banging his gavel to try to quiet the protesters. "Stop it. Just stop it. Do you hear me?"

"You've done this," screamed one parent as board members filed out of the room. "This is how you've made us."

The crowd was also angry because the board would not hear testimony on the transfers in adherence to its policy not to take testimony on matters on the meeting agenda.

The transfers being protested involve Mount Hebron Principal Edgar Markley and two assistant principals at the school who are being reassigned to Centennial next school year. Centennial's current principal, Sylvia Pattillo, and two assistants will replace them.

Countywide, nearly 60 teachers and administrators are being transferred into new jobs next year. The announcement of the transfers came two days ago, taking parents and teachers by surprise.

Last evening, as school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey read the list of reassignments, Mount Hebron students flashed gold and black sheets of paper with the word "No" and others held up large signs with such slogans as "Continuity For Our Students."

Parents and students also booed, apparently reacting to a rumor that Ms. Pattillo was being transferred because the staff at Centennial was dissatisfied with her leadership. Thus, the Mount Hebron contingent felt that officials were dumping her on their school. One student held a sign that read, "Are We Equal to Centennial or What?"

Centennial students said Ms. Pattillo has done much for their school. "I am insulted that you don't want my principal," Shana Lloyd, a 15-year-old Centennial student, shouted to a Mount Hebron contingent that yelled back.

"We're not against your principal," said Sarah Workneh, a 16-year-old Mount Hebron student. "We're against losing ours."

Dr. Hickey praised Ms. Pattillo's accomplishments, and he told the Mount Hebron contingent that they were unwilling to accept a new principal "for reasons based on misinformation, innuendo and malicious intent. Dr. Pattillo has provided leadership for six years at the high school, which is acknowledged by the media and the community at large as the epitome of high school education in Howard County."

Ms. Pattillo requested a transfer to another school nearly a month ago. She said Wednesday that she wanted a change. "I am excited and I will miss the Centennial community, students and staff," she said.

Last night, parents and students from both communities finally came to the conclusion that they would not be able to influence the board and left the meeting.

"It's certainly come across that the process doesn't work," said Marty Bode, a Mount Hebron parent. "It also comes across we're not going to make a change right now."

"We as an entire school population of Howard County -- if we don't like this process, we need to find a way to change it," said Centennial PTSA President Gwendolyn Grace.

"This whole matter has turned into a very ugly situation," said Eileen Taylor, who has a daughter at Mount Hebron. "We are not being heard. We have questions, and we want answers."

More than half of Mount Hebron's students had staged a brief walkout during yesterday's third period to protest the transfers.

"A lot of what this is about is how much we care about Mr. Markley and Mr. Wallis," said Sarah Parvis, a student. "The Board of Education didn't announce this until it was too late. We feel this was done in a sneaky manner."

Dr. Hickey, who believes that shuffling principals and assistant principals enhances their career and benefits the school system, said that he has transferred every other high school principal at least once.

He said he decided to transfer Mr. Markley and Ms. Pattillo because they had been in their positions for more than five

years. The moves will boost Mr. Markley's and Ms. Pattillo's careers, Dr. Hickey said.

The school board is scheduling meetings with parents and students to address their concerns.

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