By JEROD CLAPP
After battling to either extend his contract as a principal or teach in the school he leads, Jim Sexton was involuntarily transferred to New Washington Middle/High School by the Greater Clark County Schools board of trustees on Tuesday.
The board voted in favor of the measure 6-1, with board member Nancy Kraft as the sole opposition to the measure.
Sexton, principal of Clark County Middle/High School and formerly of Jeffersonville High School, has had teachers and staff members go to bat for him with administrators. But their support and his request to take a teaching position in his own school were denied by district officials.
As Sexton prepares to start working as a science teacher in New Washington, he and his supporters in the district’s alternative program expressed their displeasure with the move.
“I’m disappointed, having worked for almost four years very diligently to make improvements, I feel like I’ve been sort of pushed aside here,” Sexton said. “Jeff High in particular, I think could be a great, state-recognized high school and I wanted to be a part of that.”
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
Sexton’s employment with the district has been on shifting ground since last year. He was removed from his position as principal at Jeffersonville High School in October 2012 and reassigned to the alternative program the following month. Sexton was principal of both schools. Superintendent Andrew Melin cited philosophical differences and failures to follow directives as the reason for the removal.
In December 2012, the board voted to allow his principal’s contract to expire in June 2013. Since then, teachers in the middle/high school have reached out to administrators to keep him in their building.
Doug Murphy, a GED instructor there, wrote a letter in March to Melin and other administrators pleading a case to extend Sexton’s principal contract at Clark County Middle/High School.
He said after receiving little response to that letter, he and six other staff members at the school signed a separate letter of support to Melin and the board on April 1.
“We are passionate about keeping this team together,” Murphy said. “I think the board long ago decided Sexton would be lumped in with the [Jefferson County Public Schools] crowd and that he would be removed.”
In January, the building discussion group at the school requested a climate audit of certified staff from the school’s administration. In the minutes from that meeting, the idea was to show Sexton was doing a “commendable job” with students and staff in the building.
Murphy said Sexton’s work at the school had helped a lot in a short amount of time. He said this year, 44 students earned their GED. He said he expects that number to top 50 by the end of the school year. In the high school division of the school, 200 credits were completed by students who needed them.
“We now have a very thriving, growing school,” Murphy said. “We must have an administrator who ties things together. I’m a lifelong educator. I’ve been with good principals and bad principals. I’ve fought with principals, so it’s a bit ironic to me that I find myself fighting to protect a principal’s job.”
Melin said he appreciated the outpouring of support from Sexton’s staff, but administration denied the climate audit and the recommendation of a contract extension.
He said while the school has been performing well since Sexton has taken its lead, the credit for the alternative program’s success spreads beyond the principal.
“[The administration] made decisions to move our middle school classrooms to that facility,” Melin said. “We made decisions to put a counselor in that building pretty much full-time. What we asked Mr. Sexton to do was manage that on a daily basis. I believe that he has fulfilled his job and met that expectation.”
He said the district’s changes to the alternative program, implemented in January, were due to work by assistant superintendent Travis Haire, as well as teachers and counselors in that school.
“I believe he was instrumental in the move of the [middle school] classes to Clark County Middle/High School and he was instrumental in the selections of those teachers there... the counselor, being put in that position,” Melin said. “I put a lot of credit of that transformation to Mr. Haire.”
Sexton was entitled to a teaching position after the non-renewal. He said before the notification of his reassignment — which he received on May 2 — he requested to teach a credit recovery course in his building after a retirement opened up the position.
He said he sent notification to the head of human resources, Donna Mullins, on Feb. 14. He later sent the same request to Haire on April 12. He said he never heard back from either request.
Melin said the district considered moving Sexton to the open position at his school, but decided against it to give Sexton’s successor a chance to lead the school in their own fashion.
“The concern that we had is that he’s been in charge of that program,” Melin said. “It’s such a small program from a staffing point. When we brought leadership for that program, we wanted them to have the ability to come in with a fresh outlook. Mr. Sexton is entitled to a teaching position, but it doesn’t entitle him to whatever position he’s requesting. We have to make a decision what’s in the best interest of our school system.”
Sexton said he agrees the changes in the alternative program have credit to spread all over the district, but he still had a hand in the administration of those changes.
“I feel like I’ve contributed a great deal,” Sexton said. “I’ve been in charge of everything that moves in the building... It is a team, but I’m the captain of the team. It’s a great team, I hate for it to be broken up.”
Donna Spence, a Jeffersonville resident, spoke to the board during the meeting about her feelings on sending Sexton to New Washington Middle/High School.
She said Sexton’s services as Clark County Middle/High School have been more than effective and hated to see his move.
“He’s doing the job our children need him to do, but apparently, this board is not through disrespecting Mr. Sexton,” Spence said. “Let’s make him drive the greatest distance possible to make him remain at GCCS.”
Sexton said the drive from his home in the east end of Louisville is about 50 miles one way. But he said that won’t prevent him from showing up at work at the beginning of the next school year.
“I’m not resigning,” Sexton said. “If directed after all the debate and all the legal questions about the contract, I’ll report to New Washington. I do not believe the contract’s been followed.”
Sexton said he’s going to consult with the Greater Clark Education Association to see if he’s been fairly treated under the contract the district negotiated with them in July 2011.
But Frank Denton, president of the association, said there may be a hitch in the fine print for Sexton. Under the contract’s definition of school employees for representation, principals and other administrators are excluded.
“We don’t represent him,” Denton said. “He cares about what’s happening to him and he’s trying to do what he can, but I don’t think our contract says we represent him. We wish him well. If he changes back from principal to a teacher, I hope he joins and we’ll represent him.”
Before the meeting, Kraft said it takes a special kind of person to deal with children who are in the situations common in alternative programs. She said Sexton fit the bill and doesn’t know why administration doesn’t see it.
“I can’t figure out why, when we have the student body in two high schools that have gone to bat for this particular principal ... and the staff from two high schools that go on record as saying they support this gentleman and they want to keep him in that position, then we move him to neither of those positions,” Kraft said.
Melin said he wasn’t sure what Sexton’s salary would be after the move, but said it would fall in line with other teacher salary schedules based on his degree of education completed and years of experience as a teacher.