Christmas Eve contract decisions drive IRSD staff to protest
The Indian River School Board met Monday, Jan. 28, at Indian River High School. Although the meeting’s agenda items included the district’s cell phone policy and potential uniform policy, the real focus of the meeting was on a decision made at a prior board meeting.
The Indian River School Board met on Dec. 24 to discuss budget cuts and determine which staff contracts they would not be renewing. Though the board adhered to district policy in giving notice of their Christmas Eve meeting by announcing it the day before, many attendants at the January meeting questioned board members’ intentions in holding an important meeting the day before a major holiday, on school grounds, while the building was officially closed.
Not only were budget cuts decided that day, but many employees were notified Dec. 24 that their contracts would not be renewed.
Many staff members from Selbyville Middle School attended the meeting on Jan. 28 to voice their dissatisfaction with the situation and to show support to their assistant principal, Herman ““Sonny”” Riggin Jr., who was one of those whose contracts were not renewed.
Colin Crandell, an eighth-grade science teacher at SMS, read a portion of a letter the staff at SMS had written to the board in respect to Riggin. The letter noted that, during the 2000-2001 school year – the year Riggin became an administrator at SMS – the school had 1,000 discipline incidents. This past year, the 2008-2009 school year, there were only 247 incidents, marking a 76 percent decrease.
““Our school has made many positive changes over the past 10 years, and we believe many of them are due, in large part, to the character and leadership of our assistant principal,”” the letter read. ““He is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom – not only to his staff but also to the district.””
Continued Crandell, ““We could spend hours discussing all the impacts he’s had on our school. His years of expertise will not easily be replaced. The confidence the staff has in him will not easily be regained. The bottom line is we, as teachers, can go about the business of teaching and helping kids reach their highest levels of achievement because his character has produced an environment in which success is inevitable.””
The letter, as read by Crandell, received a standing ovation from audience members, many of them teachers and staff from SMS.
Regena Izzo, a special education teacher from SMS, asked the board members why they were so interested in a uniform policy when the schools are losing educators. She said that, although the board has the ability to enforce a uniform policy, it does not necessarily mean they should. Izzo asked that the board realize the kids are what make Blue Ribbon schools and the staff members are ““superstars in education.””
““After 26 years of school, I know one thing for sure: the best way to foster excellence in education is to make sure excellent people are working for you,”” Izzo said. ““I know that folks like the assistant principal at Selbyville Middle School and our district supervisor of instruction have all had more of a positive impact on our students than a uniform ever could…… And as you make decisions that impact our children, I’m trusting you to do the right thing.””
Joe Bellistri, an eight-grade language-arts teacher at SMS, spoke to the board briefly about Riggin.
““This I can say: If you would take the time to get to know our assistant principal, you would find a man who is humble, who is quiet, sincere and one of the most caring people you could meet in your entire life,”” said Bellistri. ““I would not be standing here tonight if I did not believe in my heart that losing this man would be a detriment to our school and our community.””
SMS school nurse Cheryl Layfield empathized with the board for having to make such difficult decisions in such difficult times. She explained that many in the district would welcome a discussion with the board on other options for budget cuts so that jobs could be spared. Layfield said Riggin is more than an educator and an assistant principal.
““He is a stabilizing force not only at Selbyville Middle School but throughout the district. …… Please consider the ramifications of the missing link in our system if he does not return to continue his efforts to control discipline and allow our teachers to do what you hired them to do. ““
The board did not address any of the public comments made by their staff on the budget cuts and subsequent loss of jobs, but more educators stood to protest the decisions.