Fulton schools fail to renew contract for high school principal

After seven years at the helm of Fulton High School, Principal Teri Arms will not be returning in the role for the 2011-12 school year after the Fulton School Board voted not to renew her contract during an executive session at its Feb. 9 meeting.

Board members Rodney Latty and Scott King were Arms’ only supporters in a 5-2 vote against bringing her back as high school principal next year, a move Arms said was not entirely unexpected, though she had hoped it would not happen.

“Since November 30th they had told me there were concerns regarding leadership,” Arms said Friday. “In my evaluation they talked about lack of communication, lack of building a compassionate staff to work with students, lack of concern about students that are failing and not doing enough to help them, there were several things, but they tied it all back into a lack of leadership.

“(However) I had a lot of support from my staff and the community. I was hoping they would see the people who had expressed concerns were a vocal minority. That didn’t happen.”

In response to some of the complaints listed, Arms — who took over as principal when Roger Davis died in August 2003 — said she has “worked very hard over the last eight years to make Fulton High School a fair place.”

“NO matter who you are, you are treated with respect, treated with care, and I think the teachers and all of the staff work with all of the students — whether they are doing well or are struggling — and do everything they can to help them be successful,” Arms said. “I have always said we have two goals for our students: To work with them to graduate high school and to work with them to prepare them for life after high school.”

School Board President Clint Smith said the decision not to renew Arms’ contract as principal was made because “the board is just looking for some new leadership.”

“I think between the lines it could be interpreted that the Board of Education had serious reservations about leadership at the high school and felt it was in the best interests of our students and high school to move in a different direction,” board member Rick Gohring agreed, noting he could speak only for himself, not the board as a whole. “This was not a decision the Board of Education took lightly. There was much discussion on it.”

One of the meetings at which Arms’ role at the high school was discussed was a special meeting on Dec. 21 during which a large crowd of faculty, parents and alumni packed into the high school library to show their support for the principal. A number of current and past faculty as well as parents and students took turns singing Arms’ praises. Several of the faculty members said Fulton High School was the best school, and Fulton the best district, they had ever worked in, which they attributed in part to Arms’ leadership.

Despite those ringing endorsements — and no complaints, at least at the Dec. 21 meeting or other recent public meetings — Smith said the board was not convinced Arms was the best person to lead the high school in the future.

“I know for myself and the board members there are phone calls I get at home and people coming up to you (with complaints). I don’t know whether there are more for or against (Arms), but there were people on both sides,” Smith said. “As for making a decision, new leadership is the direction the board decided to go in.”

Arms said Superintendent Jacque Cowherd assured the high school staff “it was not anything directed at them, we have a strong staff — and we do have a strong staff.”

“He told them the board just felt like we needed a change,” Arms said.

After almost 30 years serving with the district off and on in positions ranging from teaching math and elementary school to high school guidance counselor, she said the board’s decision not to renew her contract as high school principal was a painful blow.

“I’ve kind of given my life to this district,” Arms said. “What hurts is I feel like I’m being kicked out of home.”

Cowherd said that although she will not be returning as high school principal next year Arms has earned tenure with the Fulton district as a teacher.

“This action just affects her position as high school principal. She will have a teaching position in Fulton next year,” Cowherd said, noting he was unsure at this time what that position would be. “Whether she accepts that position or not is her prerogative.”

He said he could not comment further on the situation.

Arms said she has not decided what she will do.

“At this point I am still looking at options,” she said. “I’ve been thankful to my staff and the community members who’ve supported me.”

(Editor’s note: Attempts to reach other school board members for comment were unsuccessful.)

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