BONIFAY — It was standing room only as dozens of Bethlehem community members turned out and filed in to support recently transferred principal of Bethlehem High School Zeb Brown during the regularly scheduled meeting of the Holmes County School District Tuesday, Jan. 15.
One by one almost a dozen speakers came before the school board demanding and pleading for explanations, accountability and a promise to continue putting education first at Bethlehem High School.
“I’m a parent of eight children, seven of which have attended Bethlehem and two are presently attending Bethlehem High,” said Drew Kriser. “I graduated from Bethlehem High, almost all my brothers and sister attended there. The Kriser family has been attending Bethlehem school for over 39 years.”
His family has a history with the school, he said, which gave experience to his voice.
“It’s had its ups and downs,” said Kriser. “The reason why I got up here is because it’s mostly been downs. I’m not a critical person, I believe in people, I believe in the school, in fact I love the school; my children are in that school.”
He said even with the love of his school he had to be frank.
“The quality of our education has been substandard,” said Kriser. “Finally we had someone holding the standard up and you yanked him out. Do you understand why we’re so upset?”
He said that Brown was removed without explanation, justification and just cause.
“Just ‘we felt like it’ or because of politics or whatever everyone is suggesting it is,” he said. “Zeb had vision, he was dedicated, he held people accountable; all these are something that didn’t happen much there. When people aren’t performing well and they’re self-serving they don’t like to be held accountable, so they make a lot of noise and you’ve listened to some of that, I’m afraid.”
The HCSB wasn’t listening to the people, said Kriser.
“Or at least I wasn’t approached and I wasn’t asked; nobody consulted me,” he said. “Each of you is an elected official and you’ve been entrusted to rights and powers to make choices for the benefit of the students and the school. With those rights and powers granted by us, the people who give you that power, you have a responsibility.”
He said the HCSB answers to the community.
“You answer to us, we don’t answer to you,” he said. “I say that respectfully. We’ve got to be of the right paradigm of mind if we’re going to find a solution to this and set this right.”
As parents, he said, they would have to live with the lasting affects caused by the decisions the HCSD make.
“We’re the ones that have to live with the decisions you make every day,” said Kriser. “You guys make a decision then you go home and then you don’t come back for another month. We’ve got to live with it every day, week, month, year and on into the future.”
There are a lot of people, including parents, teachers and staff, he said, that care.
“There are many of us that have invest significant time and effort in the education of our children through the years,” he said. “It gets really hard when we anticipate that there might be some backsliding when there has been made some much needed progress and then this decision was made and we were like ‘this can’t be happening.’ What if things start to backslide? We don’t want any backsliding.”
He said that they were requesting that the HCSD take responsibility.
“We’ve been responsible, Zeb was being responsible and now we want to dump it on you because it was you that made the decision,” he said. “Consulting the parents and community members when you make significant decisions that effect our children, the students, is not just a good idea, it’s your responsibility. I leave you to remember where you get your powers and put the students first, because you’ve made a decision and lost a person that had dedication, had vision and held people accountable.”
Another speaker from the community was Veronica Smith.
“I’ve had six of my seven children go to school there,” said Smith. “I have two children going to school there now and will have a total of nine children go through there when they graduate.”
Smith said she called several of the board members during the Christmas holiday.
“If feel I’ve got to speak this more to the voters; for all the ones who are here voting for these men and these women that are in our offices,” said Smith. “These things need to be in the minutes and one of the board members tells me that this has been on the books since June, that Mr. Brown was to be removed. Some body’s lying.”
She said that the people should “take serious consideration” on who they vote on.
“This is our community and unless we take it back, unless we fight for it, it’s going to go to the dogs,” said Smith.
The school board members, chair and Superintendent thanked the community for participating.
“We appreciate everyone showing up and giving their support,” said Chair Jason Motley. “We promise to take all that was said under advisement. I know I want what’s best for my alma mater as well.”
Superintendent Eddie Dixon also commended those who came in support of Brown.
“I appreciate how everyone came to show their support,” said Dixon. “It is very commendable.”
School board member Sid Johnson said he also appreciated the support shown by the community.
“We need to know what the community thinks and feels about certain issues,” said Johnson. “We need the input.”
HCSD approved of Stacey Thompson as the new principal of Bethlehem High School and Rosanne Mitchell as Assistant Principal.
HCSD also approved of Jim Goodman as Deputy Superintendent/Personnel Administrator at the District Office.
HCSD approved of overnight/out of state trips for Holmes County High School’s band to attend the Exclusive Honor Band and Scholarship Opportunities/Auditions on Jan. 31 through Feb. 2 held in Troy, Ala., Poplar Springs and Bonifay Middle School’s Gifted Class to attend the History of Army Aviation on Jan. 28 in Fort Rucker, Ala., Ponce de Leon and Bethlehem’s Gifted Class to attend Art Hands on Lessons and Discover Painted History of the People and Traditions Which Gave Birth to the Community on Feb. 4 in Dothan, Ala. and Ponce de Leon High School’s Future Business Leaders of America Club to attend the State Officer Training with Florida State Representatives and Governor on Feb. 10 through Feb. 12 in Tallahassee.
“These are funded by the clubs themselves, right?” asked School board member Debbie Kolmetz.
Dixon said in normal cases the clubs pays for their trips, however the FBLA Board was paying for the Ponce de Leon FBLA trip.
HCSD approved of Dixon’s recommendations to transfer Stacey Thompson, Assistant Principal at BMS to Principal of BHS and Jim Goodman, teacher at HCHS to Deputy Superintendent/Personnel Administrator at the District Office; amend Cindy Watkins from Aide I at HCHS to ESE Teacher and Rosanne Mitchell from Reading Coach at BHS to Assistant Principal; accept the resignation of Amy White, English Teacher at BHS, effective Jan. 2, 2013, Allie Williams, Custodian at BHS, effective Jan. 2, 2013 for retirement, Sylvia Mixon, Aide III at BES, effective Jan. 9, 2013 for retirement, Kyle Hudson, Ag Teacher at PDLH, effective Jan. 7, 2013 and Teresa Dockery, Aide III at BHS, effective Jan. 14, 2013; amend the ending date on the Maternity Leave of Absence on Jamie Hewitt, Aide at PDLE, beginning Dec. 3, 2012 and ending Jan. 30, 2013, and add Robert H. Newson, teacher at HCHS to the DROP beginning July 1, 2012.
The next regularly scheduled HCSD meeting is set for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5.