By JEROD CLAPP
Three Jeffersonville High School students spoke out against the recommendation to reassign their former principal, James Sexton, but to no avail as the Greater Clark County Schools board of trustees approved the move.
Sexton’s reassignment from Jeffersonville High School to Clark County Middle/High School was recommended by superintendent Andrew Melin. Melin has said the move was because of differences in management philosophies, but also said some concerns were brought to him that spurred an investigation against Sexton.
Cameron Blakenship, a senior, Cody Jones and Shelby Osbourne, two juniors at the school, spoke to the board about how they felt removing Sexton would be a mistake for their school.
Blankenship said Sexton was responsible for raising test scores, increasing opportunities for Advanced Placement courses and shifting the attitudes of the school.
“He has raised us to be at the national level,” Blankenship said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are growing and moving forward, and James Sexton is the cause of this.”
Blankenship said he is afraid that Sexton’s policies will be changed with new leadership, who he said he doesn’t believe will be as passionate as Sexton.
But he also charged the board to do what’s best for students and accused them of making decisions based on their political gains.
“You’re not fooling any of us ...,” Blankenship said. “You make your decisions for your own political gain on your own time. But I do not ... play politics with our education. You call yourselves advocates for students and education, act like it. Listen to your students and the people you have promised to provide an education to.”
After the comments from the other students, Melin said no one made the decision for him.
“I will always thoroughly investigate [concerns raised] and make a decision that is in my opinion, the best for the school corporation, and in this case, that’s exactly what I did,” Melin said. “Now there’s some people that think there’s some other conspiracy behind this, that the board told me what to do and whatnot, and I will tell you without question this was my decision.”
Melin said the board had no direct knowledge of the decision he made beforehand and that while he wanted to tell students more about the situation, confidentiality rights of Sexton didn’t allow him to go into further detail. He said he understood the frustration they felt.
“I know that you feel that way right now and I don’t blame you for your feelings, but I guarantee you that I will do what it takes to keep moving the high school in the direction that it deserves,” Melin said.
Christina Gilkey, board president, said it hurt to hear that students felt the decision was coming because of some gain board members had coming, but assured them the board was trying to look out for the school.
“My whole objective over the last four and half years is to make you our priority,” Gilkey said. “And we’re getting there. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting there. I just want to share with you all that this board has nothing politically to gain. The only thing we have to gain is when our students leave us and are prepared to be successful.”
She said when she first ran for the board, she thought there were more politics involved in it then than there are now.
The board separated the personnel report from the consent agenda — several items that are generally accepted at once — then separated the classified and certified personnel.
The board approved the certified personnel report — which included Sexton’s reassignment — with a 4-2 vote with board members Nancy Kraft and Becka Cristensen opposing. Ernie Gilbert, board member, was not present at the meeting.
After the meeting, Jones said he didn’t feel like the board nor the superintendent earnestly tried to answer his questions.
“I wouldn’t call that a response, I would call it pandering to us,” Jones said. “He dodged our questions ... and didn’t give us any answers.”
He said he felt the board took the students for fools and didn’t give them the respect they deserved.
Justice Kraft, a senior at Jeffersonville High School, said after the meeting that he thought the board should not have reassigned Sexton based on what he had done for the school.
“We shouldn’t have to be here advocating as much as we are,” Kraft said. “It should be a no-brainer.”
Kraft said he is the grandson of board member Nancy Kraft, which is why he did not speak during the meeting.
The board also authorized Melin to issue preliminary notices of non-renewal to district employees. The board voted in favor of the measure 5-1, Christensen opposing.
The board also approved policy changes for student discipline. Corporal punishment has been removed from all policy language and students may now be assigned community service in lieu of suspension or expulsion. The measure passed 5-1, with Christensen opposing.
The board also revised a policy for their regular and special meetings, allowing comments from the public on non-agenda items for both meetings. Sandra Lewis, general counsel, said the superintendent’s administrative assistant, Renee Markoski, may inform those who want to speak on non-agenda items to take it up with the proper chain of command, but are not required to do so. The measure passed unanimously.