Blair Oaks school board faces crowd supporting principal

Editor's note: An updated story was filed at the end of the meeting, reporting the board's decision. The update is posted here.

WARDSVILLE, Mo. - The regularly scheduled Blair Oaks School board meeting was anything but normal Tuesday night when more than 100 people filled the middle school library to voice support for an elementary principal whose contract was not being renewed.

The crowd gathered to speak with board members, or simply show their support for Lorie Winslow, elementary school principal.

On Friday, Superintendent Jim Jones told Winslow during her annual performance evaluation her contract would not be extended for the next school year.

While Winslow, who has worked for the district for more than 10 years, has never publicly addressed the issue and declined to talk Tuesday night, supporters — many of whom spoke with Winslow and read the evaluation signed by Jones — said the items noted as being of concern have little merit.

Ginger Luetkemeyer, a former elementary school parent, said she had seen the evaluation and said the issues Jones noted included what was characterized “as clerical issues — nothing illegal or wrong — simply a file not being where someone wanted a file when they wanted it.”

Those issues, Luetkemeyer said Tuesday night, were an issue with the way Winslow may have or may not have filed employee evaluations that she performed on her staff.

“What she is asking for is due process,” Luetkemeyer said. “She refutes the issues that are noted and in no way did she break a law. And saying she did is a defamation of character.”

Luetkemeyer said Winslow told her Jones said she had broken the law because the teacher evaluation files were not available to him upon request.

“That is a mischaracterization of the law and the intent of the law. The evaluations were done, and were simply filed in the wrong file cabinet or not made easily accessible when someone wanted them,” Luetkemeyer said. “It would be like coming into your home and demanding the last nine years taxes and receipts. It is a law that you have it, but you are not breaking the law if you cannot immediately place your hands on all of those documents.”

Parents, grandparents, former co-workers and even former students showed up to support Winslow.

The board meeting immediately went into a closed session about 6 p.m. to determine how to handle the large number of community members wishing to address the board.

Emerging from the closed session, Board President Greg Russell said two people had signed up to address the board about personnel concerns. Those two people, later identified as teachers, were allowed to address the board for five minutes in closed session.

The board went back into closed session about 6:15 p.m. to begin hearing one minute of comments each from about 100 people who signed up to speak to the board. The last people to speak to the board emerged from the conference room around 8:30 p.m.

While the board was in closed session, an elementary parent explained why she had come to the Tuesday night meeting.

Stacy Strope, parent of a student with special needs, became emotional when speaking of Winslow’s impact on her son.

“We were very worried about transitioning him into kindergarten. And last year, she gave us a tour and really made us feel comfortable and at ease,” she said, tearing up as she noted she cannot imagine sending her son to first grade without Winslow being there.

After Strope sent out an e-mail Saturday, word spread about Winslow’s contract not being renewed. She said she had received more than 30 e-mailed stories about the impact Winslow has had on students.

In accordance with Missouri law, personnel issues can be discussed in a closed session. Any action has to be reported within 72 hours.

The board came out of its closed session at 8:30 p.m. and said it would conduct its regular business and return to closed session after the regular business was conducted.

An hour after emerging from the first closed session, the board met back behind closed doors.

Before joining the rest of the board in the conference room, Russell, with Jones by his side, said the board would release within 72 hours the results of the closed session if any action was taken.

The crowd, which still numbered more than 80, asked how the information would be released to the public. Jones said it would be released to the media and would be available at the district office.

“Prepare to be inundated with requests,” a member of the audience said.

Editor's note: An updated story was filed at the end of the meeting, reporting the board's decision. The update is posted here.

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