RUSSELLVILLE, Mo. — Students at Cole R-1 High School walked out of class Friday afternoon in support of longtime school secretary Judy Wilson.
The effort spawned from a Facebook group supporting Wilson, whose contract with the Cole R-1 School District was not renewed by a 4-2 vote at April's school board meeting. As of Monday, the group has nearly 900 members, roughly more than Russellville's entire population.
Former student Anja Nichols said she organized the protest as a show of student support for Wilson, who has been the school's secretary for 11 years.
"(Wilson) had a personal connection with every single student at the school," Nichols said. "She's so much more than a secretary. She's a mother, a friend, a role model; that's what she is to the students. She was always there if a student needed her, and she's loved by every single person who's walked through the doors of that school, so everyone is just kind of upset. They're just looking for a reason for why her contract wasn't renewed."
Nichols said she thought the show of protest went well. She said about half the student body participated, and others from the community were present — off school property — to offer support as well.
"Everybody really showed their support," Nichols said. "They were really there for her, and I think Judy's really blessed to have so many students who support her."
Nichols said despite not hearing any response from the school district, the group made its point and made a difference — "and that was the reason for it," she said.
Nichols said she has a special connection with Wilson, which led to her decision to organize the protest. Nichols moved to Russellville from Florida, and she said Wilson made her feel at home when she was still new to the area.
"She was there for me, so I just wanted to be there for her," Nichols said. "She deserves to be at that school more than anyone."
Members of the community group are circulating a petition in support of Wilson, Nichols said, which they plan to present to the school board at its May 20 meeting, along with personal letters from community members.
Cole R-1 Superintendent Perry Gorrell declined to comment on the protest Monday, citing he couldn't discuss the issue since it is a personnel matter.