Amid concerns about the school's future, Bridges Preparatory School's board members announced Sunday at an emergency board meeting that retired teacher Bernie Schein would take over as interim administrator in the wake of Melesia Walden's resignation.
A retired teacher whose career took him from Port Royal to Mississippi to Atlanta, Schein has more than 40 years of teaching experience. Thirty-three of them were spent in Atlanta at a school using the Paideia educational method, a teaching technique requiring rigorous, accessible public education that Bridges Prep was founded on.
Schein also unsuccessfully ran for a Beaufort County Board of Education seat in November, losing the District 3 election to Michael F. Rivers, according to state election data. He said Sunday he would work to build a "closeness" between teachers and parents centered around their children.
"We have to listen to the children," he said. "Teaching is learning. I want to know if there are problems, if something is wrong. That's why I'm here."
Casey Chucta, a sixth-grade math teacher, represented the school's teachers at the meeting. Chucta said Schein's selection met with approval in a meeting before the public one.
"We're here to reassure you that it is business as usual on Monday," she said. "There is no reverse on this machine; we can only move forward."
Board chairman Charlie Calvert said Schein would help in the search for a new administrator, but that he did not want to be a candidate for the permanent position.
Schein was contacted Saturday by the board after Walden's resignation late in the school day Friday. Calvert called Walden's resignation "unexpected," but Walden said she had tendered her resignation about a month earlier over diasgreements about purchases she tried to make.
Walden said the final straw came Friday, after she tried to buy projectors for the classrooms. Walden said she got permission from Calvert to order the projectors, only to have him and treasurer Kim Durham ask her to cancel the order 45 minutes after she placed it.
"I knew if I stayed there it wouldn't be effective, which is why I volunteered to resign," Walden said. "The board is there to make policy and evaluate, not govern day-to-day operations. Friday was the second time they had immediately asked me to cancel my order. If they were going to do that, they should have done it upfront."
Walden outlined her reasons behind her resignation and her concerns over the school's future in an email to staff and faculty Saturday night. It caused a brief furor before the meeting when a parent, Lisa Haglund, was ordered by Calvert to stop handing out copies of the email outside the meeting place in Technical College of the Lowcountry's auditorium on Ribaut Road.
About 100 people were at Sunday's meeting, including two uniformed Beaufort Police Department officers. Vice chair Blair Williams opened the meeting, telling the assembled crowd that no public comment would be allowed on "personnel and contractual issues," referring to Walden's resignation.
That drew the ire of parents such as Harold Irwin, who won applause from the audience when he told board members they needed to be clear about why Walden resigned.
"You've all lost credibility with me," he said. "I wouldn't buy a used car from you. You've talked about openness and honesty, so be honest with us about this. We're the stakeholders in this, the parents and the children of the school."
Others, like Joel Iacopelli, went even further. Speaking on behalf of a group of concerned parents, Iacopelli asked the board to formally resign their positions over Walden's resignation and changes in the school's charter.
Iacopelli and other parents, such as Amy Painton and Ivei Szalai, both of whom also spoke at the meeting, are concerned over the addition of bylaws that could limit the election of new members to the board. The group of parents also want Walden to return as administrator.
Walden said a new bylaw would have kept Calvert, Durham and at least one other board member from the planning board on the new school board, with the four other seats up for election in the coming months.
"They're doing it legally, but they aren't doing what's morally right," she said. "Each parent should have a right to be nominated. It should truly be a representative board. If my leaving has to be for something, I hope it just empowers the parents."
Calvert said the school's lawyers are updating the school's charter to reflect state law, which allows for 50 percent of the board seats to "roll over" into the newly elected one.
Calvert said Sunday he offered to resign in August when Walden tendered her resignation, but stayed onboard after she told him she didn't want anyone to resign, viewing it as her blessing for him to continue.
Walden said she would return if Calvert and Durham left and she was offered the position again.
"I care deeply about Bridges, and I'd come back in a heartbeat," she said. "I love those babies, and I handpicked the teachers. I was working because I wanted to."
However, board members said Sunday they are committed to moving on without her.
"Failure is not an option," Calvert said. "We must move forward from this."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.