Bennington School Board reverses decision, reinstates assistant principal

This article by Derek Carson originally appeared April 4 in the Bennington Banner.

BENNINGTON — The Bennington School Board voted in a split decision to give Bennington Elementary Assistant Principal Jerry O’Connor a new one year contract, pending the completion of goals laid out within the contract. In the same meeting, it was announced that Assistant Superintendent Donna Leep would be resigning from her position.

Both announcements were met with applause from the audience at the meeting, which was held at Benn El.

The decision reversed an earlier decision by the board, which had triggered months of public protests and debate. From the late January meeting where the vote to not renew O’Connor’s contract was made, to a special meeting that featured only an executive session, to town meeting day, to the board’s regular March meeting, which was itself twice rescheduled due to snow, members of the public came out in force to speak on O’Connor’s behalf. Present and former colleagues, parents, and students spoke during the public comment portions of those meetings, protested outside of the school and at the Four Corners in Bennington, and wrote letters to the Bennington Banner asking the board to reconsider its decision.

After spending over 90 minutes in executive session on Wednesday, board member Chaila Sekora made a motion to offer O’Connor a new contract. Sekora, Jodie Hudson, Dan Monks, and Jackie Kelly, who had called into the meeting by phone, voted yes, while Meridy Capella, Jackie Prue, and Chairman Chris Murphy voted no.

O’Connor spoke after the decision, fearing that the coming year will just be a repeat of the past year, when he met with administrators to discuss goals and was under the impression that he was doing well, but was eventually told his contract would not be renewed. He spoke candidly to the board, saying, “It wasn’t you guys who gave me a contract, it was these people here.”

O’Connor also expressed his strong desire that Bennington Elementary Principal Edie Dunn, his direct supervisor, be the one responsible for evaluating whether or not he was meeting his goals, rather than Superintendent Jim Culkeen or Leep. Murphy said that was to be determined.

Read full article at the Bennington Banner.

(Fair use with written permission from the New England Newspapers Inc.)

Image courtesy of Catamount Access Television