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City school board moves criticized
Policy vote, Dixon transfer are debated

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville School Board member Bishop J.C. Richardson Jr. abstained from voting Monday night on an update to a nondiscrimination policy, saying he doesn’t feel the school board is practicing nondiscrimination.

Also at the meeting, several citizens complained about Aji Dixon being moved from principal of Martinsville High School to the new position of coordinator of alternative education and dropout prevention for the school division at a significant pay cut.

“I don’t feel like we’re practicing nondiscrimination at this point,” Richardson stated in explaining to the board why he was going to abstain from voting on the nondiscrimination policy update. However, he said he didn’t want to vote no.

The policy update passed anyway.

The updated nondiscrimination policy states: “The Martinsville City School Board is committed to nondiscrimination with regard to sex, gender, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, ancestry, age, marital status, genetic information or any other characteristic protected by law. The commitment will prevail in all of its policies and practices concerning staff, students, educational programs and services, and individuals and entities with whom the board does business.”

On June 24, the school board approved the appointment of Angie Weinerth, who had been assistant principal for instruction at Martinsville High School, as the new MHS principal. She was appointed to succeed Dixon, who was named to the position of coordinator of alternative education and dropout prevention. Weinerth is white. Dixon is black.

The Bulletin filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out Dixon’s compensation as principal of MHS and in his new position. Schools superintendent Pam Heath responded that Dixon’s salary as principal of MHS for fiscal year 2012-13, a 12-month position, effective July 1, 2012, was $80,802. Dixon’s salary for fiscal year 2013-14 as coordinator of alternative education and dropout prevention, an 11-month position, effective Aug. 1, 2013, is $53,502, Heath stated.

“Because of his switch from a 12-month to an 11-month position, Mr. Dixon will be paid for the month of July at his 2012-13 salary. Pro-rated salary over the 12-month fiscal year 2013-14 (equals) $60,236,” Heath stated. She said the new position was created to try a new approach for helping at-risk students.

During part of the meeting set aside for public comments, Pastor Bobby Agnew of St. James Pentecostal Church stated, “anyone who knows me can tell you that I am slow to consider race as a factor in problems that exist in our community. .... There are those within this community who see the decisions made by this administration over the past few years as unfair and unequally distributed amongst school employees.

“The recent change of the (MHS) principal along with a major reduction in his salary is seen as unfair and callous,” Agnew said. He said there have been several principal changes at MHS in the last few years, which promotes “the appearance of tremendous instability in our district.”

“Based on the talk that has been circulating in the community, the principal hired in 2011 (Dixon), had a major task to turn around MHS (a task that was believed to require more than two years),” Agnew stated. “In addition to this seemingly impossible task, the MHS principal was given two new and unseasoned assistant principals during his second year at the school. That, in my opinion, did not provide him with a strong support system.”

Agnew said that the school division previously set a precedent a few years ago when the principal of MHS was named to a different position with no pay cut. Agnew was referring to white MHS principal Tom Fitzgibbons, who in 2010 was named the school division’s director of advanced and special programming.

Dixon’s move/pay cut “is seen as unfair and inconsistent,” Agnew stated.

Agnew said he realized that decisions already made regarding the transfer of Dixon and the appointment of a new MHS principal “are likely now to be irreversible.” So Agnew asked the board “to consider the reinstatement of Mr. Dixon’s salary to what it was prior to his transfer. Again, at the very least, allow him time to financially prepare for this reduction in salary prior to imposing such a drastic cut to his pay.”

The Rev. Tyler Millner, pastor of Morning Star Holy Church, said, among other things, the school division has not explained to the community why Dixon was moved, how he was assessed, how the school division thinks Dixon’s successor might do better, the school division’s vision and direction. “It’s just not right, it’s just not right, it’s just not right however you explain it,” Millner said of Dixon’s transfer, adding that at the very least, Dixon’s pay should remain the same.

The Rev. Thurman Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Baptist Church, who was a student leader in Danville during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, said he had thought progress was being made in civil rights, but now things are going backward. He cited the need for more black administrators and teachers; and suggested school division officials visit other school divisions to see what they are doing for minority recruitment and go to other historically black colleges and universities, not just Winston-Salem State and North Carolina A&T universities.

On the Dixon debate, Echols said the school division should not put someone in a job unless it is willing to support the person — and not put a person in a position to fail, because that’s what will happen.

Among other things, Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville Henry County NAACP, asked the school division to publish details about how the alternative education program will work, such as who decides a student is assigned, what are the parent notification and arbitration processes, etc.

In an interview, she called Dixon’s being moved “unfair.”

 

 
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