Highland County School Board Meeting – January 2022

During Tuesday evening’s Highland School Board January regular meeting, which stretched over two hours, there was lots of discussion and commentary, but little action taken. Most of the agenda items were tabled pending a work session scheduled for Thursday, January 27th. The Board plans to call a business meeting after the work session to vote on any potential action stemming from the work session.

This being the first meeting of 2022, the Board performed their organizational requirements, with Kenny Hodges being re-elected to serve as Chair, and Sherry Sullenberger elected to Vice-Chair after Joe Neil refused his nomination.

Under old business, the Board had several items to contend with, including the proposed salary scale for the next fiscal year, a stipend list for roles such as athletic coaches and extra-curricular student function leaders, an amendment to the current policy of accumulated leave payout, and the hiring of an elementary school principal. New business included review of current already approved policies on dogs/service animals, staff social media policy, and staff termination/reduction in force policy, as well as the hiring of an interim employee to fill the duties of an elementary principal until a decision of a full hiring is made. With the exception of the payout amendment and the interim principal hiring, all items were tabled until the work session.

The payout policy amendment was necessitated by the passing of two employees during the current school year, and there being no policy in place for their accumulated sick and leave time. Since the previous meeting when the administration first suggested a policy amendment, a change had been made to stipulate to whom exactly such a payout would be made. The Board then proposed that the amendment be changed to stipulate the payment go to the estate of the deceased, which passed 2-1, with Mr. Hodges dissenting. The Board also agreed to the hiring of an interim principal – Superintendent Dr. Thomas Schott will recommend a qualified person to the Board for this position.

The largest topic of contention of the meeting was the hiring of an elementary principal. Mr. Neil noted that he had received much feedback in the form of letters, e-mails and phone calls, all urging the hiring of a principal, and asked the other Board members why they were not moving forward with this. Mr. Hodges said there were other models he wanted to look at including a hybrid instructor/principal role, which he said would meet state requirements. Ms. Sullenberger said she was still having conversations about the issue. Both Mr. Hodges and Ms. Sullenberger stated that they were not opposed to the hiring of a principal, but it was noted several times from public comment, both in person and online, that by not taking action, that was the impression given. Comments were received from current and potential parents and relatives of school students, as well as one faculty member. The comments indicated worry and confusion about prolonging the process unnecessarily, and harm to the school system by changing a system that was proven to work. All comments were in favor of beginning the hiring process as quickly as possible. No commentary or feedback from the public was provided against the hiring.

Mr. Neil questioned Dr. Schott as to whether he needed Board approval to advertise for the position, and was told that was not required – only the actual hiring must be approved by the Board. Mr. Neil then made a motion to move forward with the hiring of an elementary principal. The motion died for lack of a second.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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