2 Gray School teachers' removal sparks protest among community members

Jessica Fuller • Updated Jun 1, 2017 at 10:08 PM

Passion, grit and a love for teaching.

That’s what community members at Thursday’s Washington County Board of Education meeting said in protest of two teachers’ removal from the system as they asked Director Kimber Halliburton to reconsider removals and replacements.

Before public comment began, County Attorney Tom Seeley made a brief comment that board members don’t have a say in teacher transfers or nonrenewals, and that those decisions lie with Halliburton.

“Just want to make that clear to the board, there may be a little bit of confusion or the public may have a misconception due to the situation we had with the tenured teacher, that’s a statutory process that comes before the board where the board does have that authority,” he said.

Parents, teachers and a handful of students took to the podium Thursday night with requests to keep two Gray School teachers — public education instructor and coach Jennifer Taylor and drama and music instructor Stacia Howard.

Howard said she received a notice  her contract was being terminated after five years of teaching drama and music at the school. She said she didn’t understand why the decision had been made despite a good evaluation history and spotless record for a class required by the state.

“My music classes cannot be absorbed by regular classroom teachers, and music is a state-mandated subject for all students in grades K-8, so obviously that means someone must be hired to take my place,” Howard said in her comments to the board.

Parent and former Gray teacher Amanda Bellamy said her daughter’s heart was broken when she learned Howard would not be returning, and said that after years of working with Howard professionally, she did not see the reason for letting her go.

“In all the years I've been a parent I've never witnessed somebody so dedicated to a passion that they have and she instills that passion in these students,” she said.

Her daughter, Kendall, took the podium after her and read a list of 30 reasons why she and her fellow classmates thought Howard should remain in her position, saying she is an inspiration to her and her classmates and she didn’t want to see her go. Kendall has studied drama under Howard for two years and said Howard helped wake a passion for acting in her that she didn’t know was there before.

“Mrs. Howard has personally given me the chance to realize how much I love acting,” she said. “Every time you get on stage, you get to escape reality. I have gotten to experience that many times thanks to Mrs. Howard.”

Ben Trout, vice president of Bristol Motor Speedway, came before the board as a parent of a student athlete under Taylor. Taylor is the school’s physical education teacher as well as the coach for the girls and boys soccer and basketball teams. Trout said that as far as he knows, Taylor was told she was being transferred from Gray to another school with no explanation other than “the school is going in a different direction.” 

A group of Gray School student athletes dressed in their jerseys stood in silence beside Trout as he addressed the board and asked for Halliburton to reconsider the transfer of Taylor, who has been with the school for 12 years.

“For 12 years Coach Jennifer Taylor has poured her heart and soul into making our kids better, she teaches she coaches, she participates, and she does it with a passion,” Trout said. “That’s something that’s missing so much in our world of education today.”


Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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