Parents petition to overturn principal's suspension - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

SCHOOL PATROL: Parents petition to overturn Signal Mountain principal's suspension

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SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, TN. (WRCB) -- Paul Smith is the first to admit that parents differ as to whether Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith should have forced out Dr. Tom McCullough as Principal of Signal Mountain Middle & High School.

"The petition is simply about the punishment," he says. "It was too harsh."

[Click here to read the petition]

Friday, Smith informed Dr. McCullough by letter that he would be suspended without pay through the remainder of his contract; 44 days, forfeiting about $13,000 in pay.

The further reprimand came two days after Dr. McCullough announced his retirement, and four days after Smith informed Dr. McCullough that he would not be returning as principal for the 2012-2013 school year.

"That goes too far," Paul Smith says.

His on-line petition urges Superintendent Smith to lift Dr. McCullough's suspension and "allow him to continue in his role as principal of Signal Mountain Middle High School until June 30, 2012, to allow Dr. McCullough to complete his current contract with the Hamilton County Department of Education."

"We understand that mistakes may have been made," the petition continues. "But to end such an accomplished career with a suspension because of actions by other adults, and a threat of harsher discipline if Dr. McCullough dares to even appeal the suspension, is simply wrong."

Parents credit Dr. McCullough with a number of academic achievements during his three-year tenure.

Signal Mountain is the first Hamilton County school to be authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization to offer the IB Diploma Program.

Test scores are in the top 5% of the state and international academic standards.

It's won five state sports championships: 2012 Middle School Girls Basketball, 2012 High School Girls Golf, 2010 High School Football, 2010 High School Volleyball, and 2009 High School Girls Golf.

McCullough was named High School Principal of the Year by the Hamilton County PTA. Of the 140 students in the 2012 graduating class, 140, or 100%, have been accepted into college.

"If it (the suspension) was issued as a directive to Dr. McCullough, I'm gonna show you, I'm disappointed in that," Signal Mountain parent Lisa Crowder says. "If it was a directive to our community, I'm even more disappointed in that."

"Was he (Dr. McCullough) insubordinate? I'm not going to comment on that right now," Superintendent Smith tells Eyewitness News Wednesday afternoon.

But, Smith suggests as much in his letter last Friday (May 18) notifying Dr. McCullough of his suspension.

[Click here to read Superintendent Smith's letter]

"Your continued lack of regard for procedures and policy is troubling," Smith writes.

The incident in question concerns a Senior Class trip to the Bahamas in March.

Eighteen students, five faculty members and two school staff members were suspended for drinking, a violation of the school District's policy on alcohol.

"Despite your awareness of numerous violations (of County Board policy), you failed to initially report these violations to any Central Office personnel or to reprimand the chaperones in any way." Smith continues, "Your mischaracterization of this behavior breached your duty as principal to understand and comply with (District) policy."

Further, "At a faculty meeting on April 17, (you) breached confidentiality regarding two employees of your disregarded a specific directive."

"Dr. McCullough and I had several discussions try to get to a point of agreement and we just couldn't get there," Superintendent Smith tells Eyewitness News. "So I had to make a decision. He knew last week (Monday) that I had no intention of retaining him."

The Superintendent has declined to say why he imposed further sanctions after Dr. McCullough announced his retirement.

Dr. McCullough has declined comment until Thursday when he will announce whether he will appeal his suspension.

In his letter, Smith states that he "will consider seeking more serious discipline" should Dr. McCullough do so.

That angers Regina Hickl-Szabo, mother of a rising freshman and junior.

"What Mr. Smith is doing is giving himself a black eye and giving Hamilton county a black eye," she says.

Signal Mountain's new Principal, Robin Copp, met with faculty and staff Tuesday.

"It's too soon to talk," she says. "But it was a chance to get acquainted, and to set the tone for the school year."

Superintendent Smith maintains that Copp will have his support, and that Signal Mountain Middle and High Schools will have the tools for students to succeed.

"I want the Signal Mountain community to get past this situation," he says.

Petition signers believe that rescinding the petition would be a good start.

"Apologize," Hickl-Szabo says. "Start putting the focus on education itself instead of personality."


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