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IMS board member resigns, Hughes relieved of duties

A special meeting of the Island Middle School Board of Directors was called shortly following last week's Oct. 11 decision to promote Kelly Parsons to executive co-director alongside Gary Hughes. The meeting was called by board President Genie Salter to evaluate Hughes for insubordination and failure to implement the IMS charter.

The board unanimously agreed Hughes has been insubordinate to the board and voted to dismiss him from his job as executive co-director, although an offer is still on the table to retain him in his previous capacity as the life skills teacher.

Hughes told the board at the meeting that he would consider resuming his prior position, "only if you pay me the $42,000 you pay me now. If not, you're firing me."

Board member Pam Fortenberry was absent from Tuesday's special meeting and shortly thereafter resigned, stating she could no longer support decisions made by the board.

The issue of insubordination rose after several board members took offense to statements made by Hughes at the special Oct. 11 meeting, when Parsons was unanimously promoted. At that meeting, Hughes stated the board was "showing its inexperience" through its decision and attempts to micro-manage the school.

Board member Marlene West demanded an apology, which was forthcoming.

Salter said she left the Saturday meeting thinking Hughes' behavior would be cause for dismissal in any corporate setting. After reading the definition of insubordination in several labor manuals, Salter said she wanted to determine if other board members agreed.

Salter said at Tuesday's special meeting that according to her research, insubordination only gets worse and the behavior continues.

Board member Kim Holmstrom noted that Hughes did not apologized for his comments. "This is really hard," she said. "I feel we put our faith in Hughes and I feel we were really let down."

Several other members voiced their belief that the comments were inappropriate and disrespectful.

Noranne Hutcheson also revealed that she heard from a reliable source that Hughes said he wanted Salter removed from the board.

West confirmed that Hughes had in fact said he would like to ask Salter for her resignation from the board because he did not believe she knew what she was doing. West felt this comment, which Hughes also made to some faculty members, was inappropriate.

Hughes admitted his previous statement was wrong, although he maintained that some board members are inexperienced. However, he took issue with being cited for insubordination.

Hughes said if board members were receiving complaints from parents, as was noted at the previous meeting, then it should have been brought to his attention. Hughes said he not only was not notified about any dissatisfaction from parents, he had reported problems of insubordination by Parsons while under his direction as assistant director.

"It's OK for an employee to be insubordinate to me, but not to be insubordinate to the board?" Hughes asked. "When I had insubordinate issues it was blown off [by the board]. The insubordination by my assistant director was a constant battle."

Board member Scott Bassett said he was less concerned with the issue of insubordination, but questioned whether Hughes adhered to the vision outlined in the school's charter.

Bassett mentioned three policies Hughes had implemented that he felt were not in the spirit of the charter.

First, he learned Hughes had suspended all project-based learning, a key element that differentiates IMS from other public schools.

In his defense, Hughes said he had every intention of utilizing project-based learning but that it is something teachers and students need to work towards gradually. Hughes reminded the board that it adopted the school improvement plan he developed when they hired him as executive director. That plan outlined three schoolwide project-based learning activities to take place each year.

Bassett said he was also concerned when he heard that Hughes had developed a policy in which students would not be allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities if they were failing in any of their classes.

Bassett believed this would deprive a student from excelling in the extra-curricular areas for which they may be talented.

Finally, Bassett voiced his concerns that Hughes drafted a policy to restrict the number of times students could be taken off campus by teachers. The Island was meant to be a classroom, Bassett said.

Hughes said he did not place restrictions on traveling off campus other than to request teachers give him two-weeks prior notice for a class field trip.

"I believe the charter can work," Hughes said, "but I don't think you can have it up and fully running in two and a half months. I don't think you've given me time to implement the plan I was hired to do."

West reminded Hughes that she recommended he and Parsons work out their differences with Bassett as their mediator. "You were friends. You were a team," West said. "Why couldn't you have worked it out? Why did she have to come to the board?"

"Kelly is friends with all of you and she bypasses chain of command to go to you, as friends," said Hughes. "Continuously, she was circumventing me and talking to everyone."

Hughes said he did call Bassett about mediating the situation but a meeting time had not yet been scheduled prior to the first emergency meeting.

Parsons said the situation was not all her fault. She claimed that she refused to teach life skills full time as Hughes requested earlier this month because she is not qualified nor was she hired to do that job.

Parsons said she has had several animated discussions with Hughes fighting for the charter and what she believes is right. "I'm not happy to be here doing this either, but I don't think it's all my fault this is happening."

Bassett noted that staff at the school was not bound by a contract and employees and employers can part ways without any reason.

"If we've lost confidence in our director, we don't need a reason to part," Bassett said, "but we don't do anything without a reason. We do it for the vision of our charter, which we try to adhere to."

Bassett stated that in terms of having a leadership team implementing the charter, the board should move in a different direction, although he respects Hughes' contribution to the school.

The board agreed to retain Hughes until he and Bassett can negotiate the board's offer to reinstate him as the school's life skills teacher.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4.

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