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Move to postpone South Rowan principal’s transfer stuck with 3-3 tie

EAST SPENCER — Nearly 20 people showed up to support Dr. Donald Knox at Thursday’s school board meeting, but they weren’t allowed to talk about him.
On June 17, the school board approved a recommendation by Superintendent Judy Grissom to transfer Knox, principal of South Rowan High School, to the position of warehouse manager.
After a closed session Thursday, Board Member Josh Wagner made a motion to postpone the transfer until July 18.
Chuck Hughes seconded, and Susan Cox joined them, but the vote was 3-3. A tie vote on the school board means that the motion fails.
Kay Wright Norman, L.A. Overcash and Chairman Richard Miller voted not to postpone the transfer. Board Member Jean Kennedy was absent from Thursday’s meeting.
“We have a policy we need to abide by,” Miller said after the meeting.
Overcash agreed. He said the board needs to follow its own process in order to make an informed decision.
“Our job is not to micromanage the superintendent’s job, and she moved Dr. Knox under our policy,” he said. “Our job is to make the policies and then enforce the policies.”
Wagner was visibly upset after the vote, arguing in a low voice with board members that they don’t have to follow procedure so strictly.

At the start of Thursday meeting, Miller gave the rules for making communications to the board.
“Personnel decisions are confidential matters which are not appropriate for public comment, per state law and per board of education policy,” Miller said. “Feel free to make general statements, but you need to avoid any specific person or school reference regarding active personnel issues.”
Nine people had signed up to speak, but after Miller’s announcement, many of them simply handed over written copies of their remarks.
A few still spoke, but briefly.
Amanda Eller introduced herself and her sister Christi Austin as residents of Rowan County, graduates of South Rowan High School and daughters of Jennifer and Donald Knox.
She said she and her sister started an online petition “concerning an employee,” and it had received 240 signatures by the time of the meeting.
The petition is called “Rowan Salisbury Board of Education & Superintendent: Reinstate Dr. Donald Knox as Principal at South Rowan High School” and can be found on www.change.org.
“We hope that the comments on the petition will be considered,” Eller said.
She said she looked up the school board’s rules online beforehand, and what Miller said at the beginning of the meeting seemed different. She submitted copies of the petition and letters to the board.
“Remember the fact that all of us are human and we all make mistakes, but we all deserve the right to have our voices heard,” Eller said.
Malia Cobb said she is a retired teacher from the Rowan-Salisbury School System, and she has two students that are currently in the school system.
“We elect you folks, and we trust you to do… what’s right by our children,” Cobb said. “Based on something that has just taken place that I read about in the paper, I’m not very pleased. I do not feel like that’s in best interest of our children and the students of Rowan County.”
Karen Miller, a biology teacher at South Rowan, said she has taught under 10 to 12 different administrators at different in schools.
She told the board, “I want you to understand that the administration at South Rowan has been -”
At that point, the board chairman cut her off. He said naming a specific school and its administration, which is part of an active personnel issue, is not allowed.
After the meeting, several people in attendance told a Post reporter what they had hoped to say to the board.
Karen Miller and a few others gave the same description of Knox – a leader who is always out in the hallway talking to students, engaged and involved with them.
“This is a good principal who’s doing an excellent job. It’s not an easy job, and he does the best he can,” she said. “We don’t have much in way of discipline problems, our test scores are solid, and that reflects on the administration.”
Cobb, who substitutes at South Rowan, said the teachers there love him and are “sick at this decision.”
“I’ve worked for a lot of different principals in my tenure of teaching, and I have yet to find one that meets his qualifications,” she said.
One of her sons, rising junior Nate Cobb, said Knox greets him every time he walks by in the hallways of South Rowan.
“He truly cares about his students,” he said.
Ben Cobb, also Malia Cobb’s son, is a graduate of South Rowan and salutatorian of the class of 2013. He wrote in a prepared speech that Knox “deserves a raise or promotion rather than an apparent demotion.”
“Dr. Knox is a rare individual, one who prioritizes the future of his students above the number on his paycheck,” he wrote. “He understands how to encourage students and works diligently to provide them with the opportunity for success.”
Donna Sides said she is “shocked and upset” by the transfer. She said Knox has been a great help to her daughter, who recently graduated from South Rowan.
“I don’t understand this,” Sides said. “I think it’s just a horrible disservice to students that are going to be coming through the school now, and my heart breaks for them.”
Richard Miller said the transfer isn’t up for public discussion until Knox has been given the opportunity to appeal it.
That grievance process can take up to 65 working days, according to school board policy.
An employee has up to 30 days to file a grievance. A conference with the employee’s supervisor is then granted within five working days.
The employee can appeal that decision to the superintendent and then to the Board of Educations. The policy allows a time period of five working days between most of these actions and responses.

At Thursday’s meeting, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education also:
• Approved a continuing budget resolution that lets the school system keep operating until the state finalizes its own budget. Later this summer, the school board will meet again to pass a 2013-14 budget resolution based on the funding it will receive.
• Approved end-of-year budget amendments for May and June.
• Met in closed session to review applications for the superintendent vacancy, approve minutes from the June 17 closed session, consult with an attorney and discuss a personnel matter.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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