Board intends to renew superintendent’s contract, based on three conditions

Published 10:35 am Friday, December 13, 2013

FRANKLIN—The Franklin City Public School Board voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to tell Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle that her contract will be renewed come June 30, 2014, should she meet a few conditions.

The stipulations are that the school division receives a satisfactory academic review, a satisfactory division-level review from the Virginia Board of Education, and a pass rate of an average of 70 percent of the preliminary SOL achievement results across the division.

Ward 3 board member Johnetta Nichols made the motion, and it was seconded by ward 5 board member Jeanette Austin.

Nichols, Austin, Sherita Ricks-Parker, ward 4, Nancy Godwin, ward 2, and Edna King, chairperson, voted in favor of the conditional extension come June.

Dawna Walton, ward 6, and Will Councill, ward 1, voted against the motion.

King explained that the school board would use data collected by VDOE in its academic reviews when determining whether the reviews were satisfactory, but she declined to comment on the potential extension.

Nichols explained why she voted yes in an email.

“I voted for giving Dr. Belle a conditional contract extension because, if the results of the DOE review indicates that the Franklin Schools have implemented the appropriate and the necessary programs, staff, curriculums and other necessary components which can and will lead to higher growth and achievement of our students; I see no benefits for our students to disrupt that process at this time,” she said. “How many times have we heard, ‘it’s all about the children?’

“The conditions set are components which are necessary for our schools to move in an upward direction. I believe that greater productivity comes from employees whose jobs are on the line, than those who have been fired.”

The other school board members could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

As part of her current contract, the school board was obligated to communicate its intent to the superintendent on whether or not it intends to renew her contract. Likewise, Belle is required to communicate to the school board on her intent to renew.

School Board Attorney Taylor Williams said that Belle has not given any communication to the school board on her intent to renew, but he added that she has until Dec. 31.

No negotiation has taken place as far as changes to the contract, which expires on June 30, 2014.

Belle herself declined to comment.

Many residents and public officials have spoken out against Belle’s leadership. At a meeting put on by the Franklin City Council, many residents came out and said there should be a change in leadership, and two city councilors, Greg McLemore and Barry Cheatham, also agreed. There have been numerous letters to the editor printed in The Tidewater News on the subject.

The reasons include the division failing to meet standards of quality, such as having teachers in place who do not have the certification in the areas they are teaching, accreditation at the schools and falling Standards of Learning scores.

When Belle arrived, all three schools, Franklin High School, J.P. King Middle School and S.P. Morton Elementary School, were fully accredited, and two of the three had met No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress.

Four years since she began in 2009, all three schools are accredited with warning, and the middle and elementary schools are Priority Schools, which means they are part of the bottom five percent of Title I schools in Virginia.

SOL scores have also suffered since 2009. In the three years leading up to Dr. Belle’s hire, there were gains in 30 categories, while there were decreases in 15. Four years into taking over, there have been gains in 22 categories, and declines in 38.

In response to standards of learning, Nichols said that Franklin Public Schools are much more than SOL scores.

“The bottom line is that we must as community leaders, parents, teachers, administrators and citizens continue to encourage our students and continue to support the many great things that are happening in our schools,” she said.