Robert Smalls principal: No explanation given for demotion

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMay 29, 2014 

Denise Smith

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Denise Smith, Robert Smalls Middle School principal for 17 years, said she was given no explanation for her reassignment to Lady's Island Elementary School, where she will be an assistant principal next school year.

Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss publicly announced the administrator assignments for all schools May 21, and Smith is the only principal being demoted.

Smith's current and next year's salary was not available Thursday.

"It's really difficult to answer questions about my change in position when I really have not been given any reason other than he wanted change in administration and he has the authority to do that," Smith said.

Moss said he has meetings with all administrators before they are reassigned -- conversations that take place months in advance when a change of principal is planned. Last week, Moss said he makes all assignment decisions based on who he believes is the "best administrative fit."

"(Smith) understands why she is being moved," said Moss, adding that the decision was not related to the suicide of a Robert Smalls sixth-grader April 30. Some school parents and friends of Celeste Wills have blamed bullying at the school for her death.

Moss declined to give a further explanation for the reassignment.

Robert Smalls will become the Robert Smalls International Academy next school year and begin serving students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Smith said she has experience with elementary school students -- fifth-graders from Broad River and Joseph S. Shanklin elementary schools have attended classes at the middle school in recent years -- that would have allowed her to handle Robert Smalls' grade expansion.

She also noted that she was principal when Robert Smalls had an accredited International Baccalaureate middle-years program, before it was moved to the Hilton Head Island school cluster.

Smith said she received no indication in recent years that the district found her leadership or the school's performance lacking. Test scores and other data indicate the school has continued to improve, she said.

On the state's annual school report cards, Robert Smalls' rating moved from "below average" in 2006 to "average" in 2009. It has maintained that average rating over the past five years.

Smith said she will accept her assignment at Lady's Island Elementary and wants to continue to be a part of the district. St. Helena Elementary principal Nicole Holloman will take Smith's place next year.

"He (Moss) has the authority to move any personnel in accordance with what he thinks is in the best interest of the district," Smith said. "I guess he doesn't have to have a reason, other than that is his reason."

Robert Smalls Middle School Report Card

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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