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Citizens Address MoCo BOE On Board Member’s Conduct

Community members shared their concern about the reputation of the Montgomery County School System, as many addressed a single board member’s recent conduct during the public participation section of the regular board meeting on Monday, April 18, Retired Montgomery County Schools teacher Donna Brice Sharpton spoke on behalf of her daughter, Tamra Rodgers, who has been an educator at Montgomery County Elementary School for 16 years. According to Sharpton, her daughter was targeted by social media posts made by a board member. “I have debated about whether or not to speak, but after reviewing several social media posts made by a Board member, I felt like it was my right to speak,” she explained. “The very first continued from page

school conference I ever had about my daughter was when some of her teachers called me in to talk about a class change. I remember that after I left, a very respected educator came up to me and said, ‘Donna, you are going to remember this: as a parent, if you do not speak up for your child, who will?’ So, that is why I am here today.”

She informed the Board that one of its members had encouraged Rodgers to speak with the superintendent and high school principal about some concerns she had. “[My daughter] has a right to advocate for her child, just as every other parent does,” she remarked. “She and her husband then followed the chain of command, and this Board member, in turn, retaliated on social media.”

Sharpton quoted a social media post from the Board member, which stated: “I am angry because she is the cause of my kids and grandkids leaving this school system, but God will take care of all of them.” She told Board members that the “she” mentioned in the quote was Rodgers, which began a barrage of social media attacks.

“My daughter’s name was smeared all over social media, which has led to my oldest granddaughter, [who] is in high school, to be questioned by her peers about what her mom was doing,” Sharpton emphasized. “We appreciate the principal for taking this into consideration and keeping a check on the situation, which has not escalated.”

Sharpton said the Board member had also stated on social media that Rodgers had told the rest of the cheerleading team mothers that she “was not going to stop until she took the cheer coach out.”

“My daughter does not speak or even think like this at all – she is not a coldhearted or mean-spirited person, and as a family, they are going through a lot right now,” she said.

Sharpton continued, “This conduct, to me, is unbecoming as a Board member. My daughter has been called and texted during school hours and instructional time, when it is known this is her teaching time. I am appalled at this unethical behavior. It is a form of intimidation and harassment. I do not think this behavior shows professional standards that a Board seat calls for.”

Williams Speaks

Montgomery County Citizen Heather Williams also spoke on what she described as, “a matter of embarrassment to our school,” as she referred the Board to the Montgomery County Middle/High School code of conduct on cyberbullying, which is bullying that takes place through an online public forum.

“The Montgomery County School District believes that all students have a right to feel safe in a healthy school environment,” she read. “All schools within the district have an obligation to promote mutual respect, tolerance, and acceptance among students, staff, and volunteers. Behavior that infringes on the safety of any student will not be tolerated. A student shall not bully, harass, or intimidate another student through words or actions. Such behaviors include, but are not limited to: direct physical contact (such as hitting or shoving), verbal assault (such as teasing or namecalling), the use of electronic methods to harass, threaten, or humiliate and [create] social isolation or manipulation.”

She continued reading, “Any student that engages in bullying shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion.”

Williams reminded the Board of the student handbook’s prohibition of retaliation against students who had reported bullying incidents or other issues, which were subject to the same disciplinary actions as mere bullying.

“In the very recent past, as our system was undergoing yet more staffing issues, a public and very divisive social media post was made by a member of this School Board,” she noted. “It referenced personnel issues, which I have been repeatedly told could not be discussed outside of executive session. It publicly admonished the administration and our superintendent for actions taken privately, once again, concerning personnel.”

She added, “It singled out a parent as being a driving force behind the issues that were occurring, causing that parent to be harassed both on social media and in person. The initial vagueness of the post even caused other parents to be harassed, as the public tried to decipher the identity of the person mentioned. “Not only was the social media post unprofessional, childish, made for personal reasons, and filled with half-truths, it was also in direct violation of a policy that we would hold our students to, that was approved by this School Board,” she told the Board. “In addition, it caused a riff in our community that was absolutely unnecessary. “

Williams noted, “Years ago, I stood in front of our School Board, and I asked them to stop bringing embarrassment to our community. I have traveled all over the state of Georgia, and I have worked with hundreds of different schools – people are aware of the Montgomery County School Board all over the state of Georgia.” She added, “Our staff and students are working so hard to give our students the best education possible. Our students are continually making improvements academically, athletically, and in a number of extracurricular activities. It is sad and unnecessary that anyone should have to explain the actions of elected officials that continue to bring embarrassment and mockery to our school system. For people that claim to love Montgomery County School System so much, it is amazing the amount of drama and division they have been able to bring to our community.” Williams told Board members that she wanted to clarify that this embarrassment felt by several community members was not because of the entire board, but merely one member. She advised the Board to seek options for response to this public disgruntlement as a means to help restore peace within the community.

Focus on Wellbeing of Students Citizen Angela Bell also spoke during the public participation section of the meeting to encourage Board members to focus on the wellbeing of the students when making decisions.

Bell informed the Board she had several children and a grandchild who had attended or were attending Montgomery County Schools. “As a mother and grandmother, I continue to come back to this school to support it in any way I can,” she told the Board. “I will do anything necessary to support our children, and along the way, I have met some wonderful coaches and teachers.” She continued, “We need to make good, strong decisions when we lose people that have reached out in our community and brought students back in who would have never returned to the school system, and really put Montgomery County sports on the map,” she remarked. “I am here to say that as Board members, I hope you all think very hard on every decision made concerning our coaching staff, our teachers, and even each other as a Board member.”

She emphasized, “I hope [when making decisions] you think: ‘Is it good for the community?’ [and] ‘Is it good for our children?’ That’s why we voted for you all – we want you all to make sure our children are good.”

Board Response

Board Chairman Jim Paul Poole responded to the public comments. “I remember the day that the Board did not allow public participation at their meetings – that has changed,” he explained. “We believe that the public should have some input in the schools. We believe that the Board should hear what that input is. We can’t make it better unless we are all involved.”

He noted, “Your concern and your energy toward helping us see those things will help have a better school system that will help our kids once they walk out those doors on graduation night, to be able to cope with all the things that are going on in the world today,” he remarked. “Don’t let it be said that we don’t appreciate your comments tonight. You have concerns, and those comments will help to make this Board make better decisions, be a better Board, and do those things that you all want that we certainly came to sit on this Board to do ourselves: to give our kids the best education possible.”

Other Business

Dr. Brian Barnhill was hired as the Assistant Superintendent and Director of Human Resources, Facilities, CTAE, and Safety. Barnhill addressed the Board and attendees on this new employment. “I want to thank the Board of Education, Dr. Rentz, and the interview committee,” he said. “I look forward to meeting the citizens of Montgomery County, school, staff, personnel, and other things you have to offer here. I ask that you be patient with me – give me time to get to know your name. I’m going to give you my best effort – I’m a hard worker and I’m honest. Thank you, again, everyone.”

Current Cedar Shoals Defensive Coordinator Don Vandygriff was hired as the new Head Football Coach for Montgomery County High School and Montgomery County Schools Athletic Director. Vandygriff commented on this event, “I want to thank Montgomery County and Mount Vernon, as well as Dr. Rentz, Dr. Poole, and the Board. I am excited to be the next head football coach. I know there have been some trials and tribulations, but I want you to know I am here for your kids.” He added with a chuckle, “You’ll know my voice from a long way away. All I have to say is: Soar, Eagles, Soar.” Other hires approved by the Board were: High School Agriculture Teacher Brittany Braddy, Middle School Agriculture Teacher Nicole Taylor Smith, Elementary Special Education Teacher Carly Moore, Middle School ELA Teacher Mary Heulett, Elementary School Teacher Anne Dixon, Elementary School Teacher Jennifer Cardinal, and Substitute Brittany Delores Hammonds.

Resignations were accepted for Tim Suttles, Kim Griffin, Carmen Suttles, Sandra Nobles, Gabe Gay, and Matthew Janufka. These resignations will take effect at the end of the current school year.

A five-year Local Facilities Plan was approved for the school system, which will garner $1,210,000 for updates on the Montgomery County Elementary School. This funding will be given by the Georgia Department of Education over the next five years. School staff will receive a one-time $2,000 bonus from the school’s ESSER funds, per the Governor’s orders. This will use $56,000 of the fund’s balance.

School Nutrition Director Kristen Garland will seek bids for a dishwasher and plastic trays for the Montgomery County High School, which the Board approved as a result of supply chain issues with disposable plate products.

Montgomery County Elementary School Principal Eric Burns and Montgomery County Middle/ High School Principal Dr. Scott Barrow presented the Board with appreciation gifts to celebrate School Board Appreciation Week from last month.

SHARING APPRECIATION – School principals presented Board members with a small gesture of appreciation in response to last month’s School Board Appreciation Week. Here, Montgomery County Elementary School Principal Eric Burns gives Board Member Henry Price his gift.Photo by Makaylee Randolph

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