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November 3, 2012

Melin discusses Jeffersonville High School turmoil

Message, reassignment and the district’s handling explained

JEFFERSONVILLE — The rationale behind reassigning former Jeffersonville High School principal James Sexton wasn’t explained in a meeting with Greater Clark County Schools superintendent Andrew Melin on Friday, but he did talk a little about how the message was distributed and why it progressively changed.

Sexton was put on paid administrative leave on Oct. 18. An initial release from the district only said Sexton was out of the office. But after the principal told media he was on paid administrative leave, the district issued another release the following day confirming Sexton’s statement.

On Oct. 25, another release was put out explaining Sexton’s reassignment to the Clark County Middle/High School, citing differences in management philosophies as the reason behind the move.

In an interview with Melin on Oct. 26, he said concerns were brought to him which spurred an investigation that led to Sexton’s reassignment.

In an interview Friday, Melin said everything the district did and said was to protect Sexton’s right to confidentiality and to keep the district from opening itself to potential litigation.

“I wish there was a way to answer everyone’s questions,” Melin said. “I understand and respect the fact that people want more answers, but if those individuals were to put themselves on the other side of the equation, if people in our community were in fact in ... that personnel position, they would want — and expect — their rights to be protected.”

Melin said he didn’t think announcing Sexton’s leave immediately would have quashed rumors from sprouting up.

“I honestly don’t think that the rumors would have changed regardless of that message,” Melin said. “Because even if we were to say he was on administrative leave with pay, people  are still going to wonder why and ask the question, ‘Why?’ So there was no way around that.”

Melin didn’t discuss why an investigation was launched against Sexton or what concerns were raised, but that the decisions he made were his own, not influenced by anyone else.

“At no point in time has my decision been influenced by anyone. I own my decision,” Melin said. “Whether the board chooses to support my decision or not is up to them. But there are concerns out there that I have been ... unduly influenced by people. And I can assure the public that has never been how I’ve operated as a superintendent. My integrity is non-negotiable and I will always make the best decisions I can for our students.”

Sexton’s scope of responsibility has changed — decreasing the number of students he deals with daily from more than 2,000 to about 60 — but Melin said his salary won’t change. He said because of that, the move with Sexton is considered “lateral” and not disciplinary in nature.

Though the district cited differing philosophies in management styles as a reason Sexton was reassigned, Melin said the district’s principals need to focus on academic standards as well as building management.

“I would say that as I evaluate our schools, I see that continues to be an area of absolute necessity,” Melin said. “I think everyone understands that. The role of a principal today has become much more instructionally focused versus management focused.”

Many of the district’s board members stayed mum on what was going on with Sexton, but two of them — Becka Christensen and Nancy Kraft — spoke to media about their opinions on Sexton’s removal and reassignment.

Melin said he didn’t know if the board would consider a policy to make the board president — currently Christina Gilkey — the official spokesman for the board, but assured it was common practice.

But he also said board members should be able to speak freely on other matters. He said personnel matters are always sensitive, but board members should be able to address the needs of their constituents.

Melin didn’t say whether he thought Sexton was an effective instructional leader, but he did talk about why the situation with David Milburn, the assistant principal assigned as the interim principal in Sexton’s absence, was discussed openly with the public.

Milburn faces a D felony charge in Jefferson County, Ky., of theft by unlawful taking stemming from a citation issued on Sept. 14 alleging he attempted to steal a tablet computer while working his third-shift job at a Walmart store in Louisville. The citation also says Milburn allegedly admitted to stealing an iPad from the store and selling it for $400 on www.craigslist.com.

Since criminal charges were brought against Milburn, Melin said he wanted to act quickly and let the public know that the district was handling the situation seriously.

“As soon as we were made aware of that as a possibility, we acted on that,” Melin said. “To be honest, it was obviously a shock, just the allegation itself was a shock to me, and to us and the entire school. But again, this is America and Mr. Milburn has rights. So we are, again, doing the things that we need to do by putting him on a paid administrative leave to give us enough time to fully understand the scope of his circumstance.”

Milburn’s trial begins with a preliminary hearing on Dec. 11. Melin said though his trial’s results are a long way off, the district can make a decision regarding his employment sooner.

“We want to be fully understanding of the circumstances before we come to final judgment,” Melin said. “Some people get frustrated with me at times just because they think some decisions should be made quicker. I, when it comes to personnel, I always err on the side of taking more time to make sure I make the best decision I can with all the information I have.”

Sandra Lewis, the district’s legal counsel, said there are other ways the school corporation can get the information they need in an investigation on Milburn to make an appropriate decision.

“We don’t wait to see if a plea is amended down,” Lewis said. “Pleas are amended all the time down from an original charge. Certainly, we would look at the basis that the prosecutor has for the charges before we’d recommend a termination or something like that. But rarely in situations based on the info we have are charges totally dismissed.”

Jeffersonville High School had five assistant principals working until Sexton’s reassignment. Melin said that many administrators isn’t out of line with the number of students in that school and the district will evaluate possible reassignments within the school to help take some pressure off the rest of the school’s administration.

Melin said he and his administrative team have spent a lot of time at Jeff High to help students and staff adjust amongst the turmoil, but he said he’s confident in the current interim principal, Julie Straight, and the rest of the team there.

He said he tried to handle everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks as professionally as possible, even if the wires got crossed somewhere along the way.

“As a superintendent, whenever anything comes my way that’s a concern — it happens almost daily — it’s my obligation that we investigate concerns thoroughly, and I take that obligation very seriously,” Melin said. “As it relates to everything at Jeffersonville High School, as soon as things came to my attention, I immediately immersed myself in an [investigative] process. In the case of Mr. Sexton, we ended up making a decision based on that investigation.”

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