WARDSVILLE, Mo. - Eight hours after the Blair Oaks School Board began its first of three closed sessions to talk about whether to renew an elementary school principal's contract, the principal learned she would not be rehired for the next school year.
"I can go, and I won't be rehired," Lorie Winslow, Blair Oaks Elementary School principal, said matter-of-factly as she emerged from her second appearance before the board behind closed doors.
The meeting, which began at 6 p.m. Tuesday ended shortly after Winslow emerged from the closed session at 2:14 a.m. Wednesday.
On Friday, Superintendent Jim Jones allegedly told Winslow during her annual performance evaluation that 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 at the middle school. At its peak, about 125 people were crowded in the school's library.
In anticipation of the large crowd, the school board went into a closed session about 6 p.m. Tuesday 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 already 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.
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.
At 9:45 p.m. - an hour after emerging from the first closed session - the board met back behind closed doors.
At 11:20 p.m., the board asked Winslow to come into the closed session with the board and Jones. She emerged about 10 minutes later, telling the 30 or so still in the room that she had addressed the board, reading from some prepared remarks. It was the first time she had spoken to the board about the contract.
Nearly three hours later, at 2:13 a.m. Wednesday, she was called back into the boardroom. One minute later, she emerged from the room, saying that she was not going to be rehired, but that she would finish out this school year.
Eight minutes later, the board emerged from the conference room and adjourned.
After the meeting, Jones declined to comment about what was discussed during the closed meeting, but said the board did discuss more than one subject during the closed session.
In accordance with Missouri law, personnel issues can be discussed in a closed session. Any action has to be reported within 72 hours.