Kestrel Heights students rally for principal, teachers

May. 15, 2014 @ 08:04 PM

Dozens of students at Kestrel Heights high school boycotted morning classes Thursday and rallied to protest the ouster of founder and high school Principal Tim Dugan and three teachers.

The students were joined by several parents who complained that the school’s board of directors refused to explain their decision to not renew the contracts of Dugan, who helped to start the school in 1998, and the three teachers.

During a demonstration outside of the high school, students and parents cited a long list of grievances against the board and called for the removal of several board members.

“We’re talking to the [state] Office of Charter Schools trying to get something done so we can remove this board which has taken it upon themselves to be almost totalitarian in their rulings,” said Tina Castor, a Kestrel Heights parent. “There are no checks and balances at the moment. They’re not being held accountable to anybody.”

Joy Wilburn, also a Kestrel Heights parent, said the decision to not renew Dugan’s contract was an especially hard pill to swallow for students and parents.

“The main thing is Mr. Dugan, who founded the school, is being axed,” Wilburn said. “He has created a family environment here where he knows every kid.”

Students and parents demanded the reinstatement of Dugan and teachers Christian Infinito, Teressa Balmer and Maggie Buckholz.

Josephe Featherstone, president of the Kestrel Heights board of directors, declined to discuss the decision to not renew the four contracts, but did issue a statement saying the members of the board “respect the passion of the students and parents who have expressed their concerns regarding these changes.” 
“However, the board is responsible for all aspects of the performance of Kestrel Heights High School and takes this responsibility seriously,” Featherstone wrote. “It is the policy of the Board of Directors not to discuss personnel matters with the general public, as doing so has the potential to violate individual privacy rights.”

Jacob Mothershed, a sophomore at the school, said he got 172 of the school’s 296 high school students to sign a petition supporting the effort to force the board to reinstate Dugan and the teachers.

“I did it within two days to present to the board but apparently it didn’t matter because they said they had already made their decision,” Mothershed said.

In addition to disagreeing with the board’s staffing decisions for the 2014-15 school year, parents and students complained that the board holds meetings without the proper notification required under the state’s open meetings law, works to impede progress and is generally unresponsive to the concerns of students, teachers and parents.

“They’re unresponsive to the parents, they’re unresponsive to the staff and unresponsive to the students,” Castor said. “The students came and spoke at our last meeting and they were rude and would not listen and threatened to call the police because there were so many parents there.”

Police were called to the Tuesday board meeting reportedly after one parent became agitated and began to use profanity.

 “Things got out of hand and police were called,” said Jasmine Reece, 18, a senior and president of the school’s National Honor Society, a group that helped to organize the protest on Thursday.

Dugan will finish the school year and remain at Kestrel Height until June.

On Thursday, Dugan declined to discuss his impending departure and was seen urging students to return to class.

Richie Mitchell, executive director of the school and its middle school principal, declined to discuss the board’s decision to not renew the four contracts.

But in a letter to the “Kestrel Heights Family,” Mitchell thanked Dugan for his service and said his “work is unmatched throughout all the years that our school has been in operation.”

 “Mr. Dugan has been a classroom teacher, coach, principal, director and executive director since the school’s inception in 1998,” Mitchell wrote. “There is no part of Kestrel Heights School that Tim has not been a part of creating, maintaining, or enhancing.”

Mitchell added that Kestrel is working to identify a new principal for the high school.

In a statement she read to the board of directors Tuesday, Balmer, an AP Calculus teacher who is credited with bringing Advance Placement courses to Kestrel Heights, said she deserved an explanation about why her contract was not renewed.

“If I am not to have my contract renewed, where is the action plan in order to address the issues that there is about my teaching?” Balmer asked. “Why am I being dismissed and been given no explanation? The board owes me an explanation because it is the ethically right thing to do.”