Education

Florence 4 board calls state’s reprimand of Jasper Co. superintendent ‘inhumane’

One month after the S.C. Board of Education publicly reprimanded Jasper County’s superintendent, Rechel Anderson, for unprofessional conduct in her previous, brief tenure as head of Florence 4 School District, the Florence board of trustees has defended her.

In a seven-page statement, four of Florence 4’s seven board members called the state’s treatment of Anderson “inhumane” and its treatment of Florence’s trustees “unethical.”

The state board said in its August reprimand that Anderson — who worked for the Florence district between December 2017 and May 2018 — had withheld information from state investigators, requested a payout for leave time she had taken, falsified a personnel report and not returned to her school district when two students were killed in an off-campus shooting, among other offenses.

The four Florence board members who signed the statement disputed those claims about Anderson, who began work in Jasper County in June 2018 and had no previous record of disciplinary action.

“To watch Dr. Anderson go through the ridicule and humiliation created by the alleged allegations of the State Department of Education is simply baseless, unprofessional, and should not be permitted,” wrote Florence 4 board chair Lillie Mae Joe, secretary Brenda McKithen and members Deidra Thomas and Henry Anderson.

State department of education spokesman Ryan Brown said the reprimand process was “essentially a court case,” noting that Anderson’s attorneys were present, and depositions were heard from both sides.

“This is a disgruntled group of four people that basically ran their district into the ground,” Brown said. “Nothing that they write in this incoherent diatribe surprises me.”

In Florence 4

While the Florence 4 schools’ board of trustees is still technically intact, Brown said its decisions have no bearings on the operations of the district’s schools, all of which were taken over by the state in May 2018.

“Over the past ten years, Florence Four has lost 32% of its student population while still paying millions in administrative salaries and related costs. Now, with just over 600 students among its three schools, the district’s finances are in dire shape and require immediate action,” state superintendent Molly Spearman said at the time.

Anderson was fired, and has since sued the Florence district, state department of education and Spearman, claiming that she was entitled to a $115,000 payout equivalent to a year’s salary. She also requested a payout of all annual leave she had accumulated over five months.

The case is currently slated for alternative dispute resolution — an option outside the courtroom to resolve civil suits instead of or before going to trial.

The order of public reprimand signed by state board chairwoman Del-Gratia Jones said Anderson neglected to mention that she had taken some of her annual leave, including two days off to interview for the Jasper County superintendent position. She “was untruthful with District personnel about the reasons for her absence” for the interview, according to the order.

The state board order said she neglected to return to Florence 4 in what would be her last week of work after the death of two students and the critical injury of another in a shooting. Instead, it said, she continued touring schools in Jasper County.

The order also said Anderson had a verbal confrontation with an employee in front of district students and staff, omitted information from the personnel report of an interim principal hired during her tenure, kept that principal on staff for at least two weeks after she was told to fire him, and “advised staff that the State Superintendent and (director of the SC Department of Education’s Office of School Transformation) Dr. Dixon did not need to know everything that goes on in the District.”

The Florence 4 trustees made the following claims:

  • There is no recording of the verbal altercation the reprimand referenced;

  • Chairwoman Joe was consistently informed by Anderson of any and all absences;

  • Anderson had not falsified a personnel report, but modified one by the district’s Director of Human Resources to “depict the current status of the department”;

  • That former interim superintendent Zona Jefferson had said the state did not need to know everything, not Anderson;

  • And that Anderson had not been given a date by which the interim principal should be fired after Spearman told her to do so.

Brown declined to comment on the trustees’ individual allegations, referring back to the reprimand.

“That whole public reprimand is a formal process,” he said.

In Jasper County

Anderson was named interim superintendent of Jasper County School District on May 29, 2018, and was named permanent superintendent one week later, with a four-year contract and salary of $145,000.

None of the five Jasper County Board of Education members contacted by the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette last month was aware of the reprimand two days after the reprimand was released to the public Aug. 13.

At the time, board secretary Carolyn Bolden said she was “stunned” by the news.

Since then, the Jasper board has taken no action regarding the state board of education’s reprimand.

“We’ve made the decision that we’re standing by her,” board chairwoman Daisy Mitchell said Thursday. She declined to comment further.

Board member Tedd Moyd said in August that despite being unaware of the state’s action,

“I want you to report this: She’s been doing a very good job since she got here. She has turned the schools around.”

The Jasper district has fewer than 3,000 students, 87.3 percent of which were classified as “students in poverty” by the state.

In 2017-18, just 16.5 percent of district students met or exceeded grade-level expectations on SC Ready English tests compared to a 41.7 percent statewide average; rates on SC Ready math tests were similar, according to the state department of education’s website.

Statistics from the 2018-19 school year are not available yet, but in a July interview with Bluffton Today, Anderson said she had met her goals, citing improved student achievement, school facilities and competitive salaries.

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Rachel Jones covers education for the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has worked for the Daily Tar Heel and Charlotte Observer. Rachel grew up in Ayden, NC, surrounded by teachers.
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