Concerned citizens group protests hiring of Northwoods Middle principal, treatment of minority schools
A concerned group of Charleston County residents asked the school board on Friday to reconsider its decision to hire a “marginal and inconsistent” principal to lead Northwoods Middle School, but the board chairman said that’s likely not going to happen.
More than 20 members of Citizens United for Public Schools, a loosely organized group that includes leaders of the Charleston NAACP and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, gathered outside the Charleston County School District’s downtown office to protest the board’s hiring of Dan Conner. Conner could not be reached for comment.
The school board voted against hiring Conner in June for the North Charleston school, but two members recently said they had changed their minds after getting more information on Conner, and the issue was put back on the board’s agenda. On Monday, the board agreed that Conner should be principal.
Speaking for the group, the Rev. Joe Darby, pastor of Morris Brown AME Church and vice president of the Charleston NAACP, called the board’s action “curious, ill-advised and troubling.”
He said Conner made no significant progress at Stall High during his four-year tenure. Conner left in 2010 for a principal’s job in Iowa but resigned after one year amid controversy. He came back to Charleston as the interim principal of Garrett Academy in 2011-12.
“Mr. Conner’s professional track record reflects a troubling degree of inconsistency that is not compatible with the present needs of Northwoods Middle School,” Darby said.
Darby said this decision is part of a trend in which district schools have been rated as “at risk,” and especially those with student populations that are predominantly black, have made little progress under Superintendent Nancy McGinley. Many such schools also have had “revolving doors for principals,” he said.
Chris Fraser, chairman of the county school board, said the board didn’t create the vacancy at Northwoods Middle. Its former principal, Carol Beckman-Bartlett, left for another job in another school district. The district had to fill that vacancy, and the board hopes Conner stays for some time, Fraser said. He’s not expecting board members to reconsider the issue, he said.
“We need to give him an opportunity to be successful,” Fraser said.
School leaders are working to address the achievement gap in a number of ways, such as expanding its literacy academies and giving extra resources to struggling schools, he said.
“The board and the district have not taken its eye off the ball on making sure all students are achieving,” he said.
When the board voted down Conner initially, McGinley said she began moving forward as if he weren’t going to be there. She appointed an interim leader, Toshawnka Mahone, who was working as an assistant principal elsewhere in the district.
Mahone will stay at Northwoods Middle this year, and McGinley upgraded her position to associate principal of academics, which is more than an assistant principal job. Mahone will focus solely on academics and instruction, and keeping her there should help ensure a strong school opening and continuity, McGinley said.
McGinley said she wouldn’t debate Conner’s qualifications as a principal. “If he were not a credible leader, we would not have selected him to lead Northwoods Middle,” she said.
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.