School board upholds non-renewal of former administrator's contract

Photo by David Demarest

Photo by David Demarest

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education upheld a recommendation from Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews to not renew an assistant principal's contract this year.

The school board unanimously upheld his recommendation that came after a 12-hour personnel hearing on Wednesday requested by an assistant principal affected by the recent reduction in force.

Sylvia Jordan, who worked at the Newton County School System for about 15 years as principal at Clements Middle School and later assistant principal at Alcovy and Newton high schools and previously in other positions, was approved for non-renewal for the 2011-12 school year by the school board in May under the RIF. In March, the board decided that one assistant principal at NHS and one at AHS would be affected by the RIF, and other positions and programs would be cut in other departments, to save about $8 million to avoid a budget shortfall.

Jordan doesn't feel she should have been terminated. The assistant principal lost at AHS was allowed to transfer to an open position at Liberty Middle School instead of being terminated through the RIF.

Jordan's attorney Janet Hill said in opening statements on Wednesday that Jordan hasn't received any unsatisfactory evaluations while at NHS, where she most recently served as assistant principal last school year, and dealt with heading up the special-education program at NHS, which had been through a rough time over the past several years and with which she had no previous experience.

However, NHS Principal Craig Lockhart alleged that Jordan didn't work well with the other administrators at NHS this past school year and did not fulfill her duties, consistently being late to or absent from meetings and failing to follow through on projects. He believes fellow staff don't trust her and that the team has worked better since she was placed on administrative leave in March.

Lockhart, who came to NCSS in October as principal of NHS to replace outgoing Principal Roderick Sams who suddenly resigned earlier in the school year, said he tried to work with Jordan through some issues but ultimately lost trust in her ability to complete her job duties.

As a result of staff complaints, he conducted an environmental scan in the special education department by interviewing teachers and other staff members to get a better feel for the program and how it was conducted. Some felt that the department had leadership problems.

Additionally, Lockhart learned that other members in her department and on his administrative team had problems with Jordan's behavior toward them and not handling her duties, such as successfully overseeing a math intervention program. He witnessed her being late to or not showing up for meetings with the team and with parents without notifying anyone ahead of time.

He also reassigned her duties of 12th-grade discipline to another administrator at her request so she could focus on the special-education department, but he did not see the results he wanted to in the department. At one point, he said Jordan told him that since they were both black, he should watch over her.

In November, Lockhart issued Jordan a letter of redirection, as she had been issued in the past at Alcovy High School. He stated that he was concerned with her leadership and wanted her to be successful in turning around the program. He stated that he never saw that turnaround.

"I tried to be tolerant and tried to support her," Lockhart said, adding that he even moved her into a bigger office to support her large amount of files, which cost $300 to add a phone line and was decorated nicer than his office. "Everything she needed, she got."

In March after an administrative meeting in which Jordan allegedly inappropriately questioned the duties of another assistant principal in a demeaning manner, Lockhart met with her privately to discuss his concern with her behavior. He later crafted a letter and organized evidence that she was not a satisfactory employee -- he reported nine items of incompetency, nine items of neglecting duties and six matters of unprofessional conduct, among others, to NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews and the Human Resources department.

The same day, Jordan also complained to Mathews about Lockhart -- she claimed he harassed her and raised his voice during their private meeting.

After meeting with Jordan, Mathews placed her on paid administrative leave to conduct an investigation into the school's administration.

On Wednesday, each assistant principal at NHS testified, each stating that they had to cover for her on lunch and bus duties and during meetings she missed with parents and others on several occasions; they also felt uncomfortable speaking with her about issues because of fear that she would respond negatively to them as she had with others. On several occasions, they couldn't find her in the building and sometimes found her in her car.

Assistant Principal Debbie Stephens said Jordan would make inappropriate comments in the presence of teachers to make the team seem like they weren't unified, and said a few times she felt attacked during meetings by Jordan questioning her about her duties. Others had problems with her inappropriately handling student and parent complaints.

Since she was placed on administrative leave in March and never returned to the school, they each said their departments have run more smoothly, even though they each now have more responsibilities with fewer administrators. Owens, who overtook Jordan's duties with special education at the end of the year, found issues that Jordan hadn't handled appropriately, like out-of-date education plans and not reporting students correctly to the state, and said she continues to find more issues.

Nyree Sanders, director of Human Resources at NCSS, showed that Jordan previously received letters of redirection at Alcovy High School, and Mathews said that former NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley had warned him of only Jordan being a problem administrator. Whatley sent a letter to Jordan when she requested to transfer to NHS last year saying that he expected her to work effectively at the school and if her behavior continued, that she could be recommended for termination.

Jordan's attorney wondered why Lockhart only wrote one letter and never further disciplined her. He responded that he could have written a letter every week but did not want to during his first year on the job and wanted to support her; he had planned to meet with her in March for an employment review.

The attorney was also dissatisfied that Jordan was never taken off leave after the investigation continued, but Mathews said that he felt it was best that she not return. He informed her that she was likely to be part of the RIF.

Following his investigation, he said it was clear that there was no trust in Jordan and the special-education department at NHS was in shambles.

After her attorney questioned why Jordan wasn't transferred, Mathews said that he didn't believe such an employee could serve the system better at any other school, and it was not his practice to move around unsatisfactory employees.

"I could not in good professional conscience move her to another school," he said.