SIDNEY — Concerns about student safety and the changes of administration at Emerson Elementary School were voiced by two community members during Monday evening’s Sidney City Schools Board of Education meeting.
Brian Oldham, of Sidney, who also serves as PTO president at Emerson, and former Emerson principal Mike Epperly, of Sidney, addressed the BOE.
“I want to express my concern regarding the loss of two very respectable, highly qualified and experienced Emerson Elementary School administrators in a relatively short timeframe,” said Oldham. “Namely, Mrs. Dee Steiner and Mr. Mike Epperly.”
Oldham said both administrators, who were both at the meeting, are longstanding supportive members of the local community.
“In my view, they excelled in their profession as school administrators, are persons of high integrity and made the students of Emerson Elementary their first priority,” said Oldham. “The collective body of Emerson students and staff have suffered a great loss that reflects on and disrupts the continuity of education and leadership.”
Oldham said the re-appointment of new administrators is stressful on the staff and students.
“It is my hope that whatever circumstances that are responsible for the current rate of change of administrators be formally addressed and monitored with the goal of rectifying the situation and re-establishing solidarity to ensure that the Emerson Elementary students are fully supported and receive the stable learning environment which will ensure their utmost in academic achievement which they deserve.”
Oldham said he was sharing his concerns about the changes, but other parents are also questioned the pattern of appointment of principals at Emerson School.
“I care for and support Emerson Elementary and Sidney City Schools,” said Oldham. “I want to see this school district thrive and provide the best possible education for my children and all students, which is the reason I have brought forth my concerns to you this afternoon.”
Epperly, who resigned at the June 27 board meeting, also spoke at the meeting. Epperly left the district to take one with SST6 (State Support Team 6), based in Wapakoneta, which is a curriculum arm of Ohio’s State Department of Education.
At the beginning of his statement, Epperly thanked board member Mandi Croft who “took the time to listen to many layers of concerns that I have.”
“My concerns are multi-layered and really should not be shared publicly,” said Epperly. “I, and just like some staff and parents, are concerned about the future climate of the Emerson building as some of us, not just me, have experienced frustrations actually created by a few that take us away from the focus of why we are here — the kids. Many of us believe it is time to straighten up, do what is supposed to be done, have hones, transparent backing with proper protocols from the BOE office and do what is right for the children and not have to waste time on inexplicable drama in the Emerson building.”
Epperly also touched on the fact that the district has a levy upcoming up soon for voters to vote on.
“Many people vote automatically yes while others vote automatically no,” said Epperly. “Those in the middle ground will look at other things; perhaps a challenging curriculum, helpful and caring teachers, safe and well supervised playgrounds, good financial standing or even a top notch armed security program.
“Let me just add that also means maintaining safe and secure storage of school weapons at all times,” he said. “The layers of concerns I have certainly have the backing of either the standards set forth by the Ohio Department of Education, legal counsel of Columbus or simply reasonable expectations that any parent has for safety protocol at both ends of the safety spectrum for their children.”
Epperly stressed he was leaving the school district as an employee “not only because of a great opportunity but because I choose to not work in a place that fails to give consistent administrative leadership support through honesty, transparency and integrity. Like other citizens in the district and perhaps even some school employees, those are the traits I will also think about when voting on any school levy in the near future.”
After the meeting, Superintendent John Scheu and Board President Bill Ankney both had the opportunity to respond to the statements made at the meeting.
“The board has been aware of issues Mr. Epperly has had with the climate and culture at Emerson since he was hired four years ago,” said Scheu. “Through the evaluation process, meetings and an actual improvement plan for him, the culture/climate did not improve and a change needed to be made in the principalship at Emerson.”
At the end of the 2015-16 school year, Epperly was transferred to Sidney Middle School to be an assistant principal. Michael Moore, a current SMS assistant principal was moved to Emerson to be the principal.
“I would have preferred to have kept this matter private between Mr. Epperly and myself,” said Scheu. “He has chosen to make this evaluation of him public, and he is the one who resigned; I had simply transferred him to SMS as an assistant principal with Michael Moore, current SMS assistant principal, coming over to Emerson as principal. The fact of the matter is that for four years I have worked with Mr. Epperly to improve in the areas of concern — including an improvement plan and numerous meetings with him and teachers at Emerson.
“The principal is the individual who sets the tone in all school buildings, and the culture and climate that Mr. Epperly had created was not healthy for the building. I supported Mr. Epperly for four years amidst legitimate teacher concerns, and actually tried to be the mediator between he and teachers on numerous occasions — to no avail. It was clear to me that a change needed to be made, as Mr. Epperly had one year remaining on his contract. The teacher concerns were widespread and consistent as I gave every teacher an opportunity to meet with me at the end of last year privately and express their concerns.This was only done after failed attempts to mediate their concerns,” said Scheu.
Scheu said since Emerson opened in 1960, there have been six principals “which has been one of the most stable principal positions in Sidney.”
Steiner, said Scheu, was principal of Emerson from 2000 to 2012, until her retirement from the district.
Scheu also addressed the procedures for the security program at Emerson and all schools in the district.
“All guns are stored in biometric safes that can only be opened by the fingerprint from a staff member on the first responders team and the school resource office,” said Scheu. “These safes are located throughout the building. We have a strict procedure on gun safety.”
Scheu said there was an instance, over a weekend, that an unloaded handgun was left in a case in a locked custodial room.
“The security officer secured this handgun in the appropriate biometric safe over this same weekend,” said Scheu.
Ankney reinforced Scheu’s statements about gun safety.
“The gun issue is a new topic for the board to digest,” said Ankney. “After the meeting tonight (Monday), I received a counter point to Mike’s statement and at this time we don’t have enough information to speak directly to it. I can tell you though that any inappropriate handling or breach of discipline on the proper handling of firearms in the schools is, in my opinion, a nonnegotiable policy and should result in a severe punishment for the person that may have committed that sin. There is NO “mulligan” or “oops, my bad” acceptability of this type of breach of policy.
“Considering the catastrophic consequences of mishandling a firearm, I would lean towards seeing that as a terminal offense,” he said. “Along with that, a person who has knowledge of and has witnessed such a transgression but failed to inform proper authorities or followed up to make sure it was handled properly, should be dealt with in a severe manner also. I am not a fan of ‘zero’ tolerance policies but this is one that makes sense and must be adhered to, no exceptions — in my opinion.”
Ankney said the board will review the statements presented by Epperly and Oldham and discuss what, if any, steps the board can or should take.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.