Mason Schools’ leader warns community of ‘uptick’ in racist comments

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 11:47 AM
Updated: Thursday, January 11, 2018 @ 7:07 PM


            Jerseys worn by Kings schools students playing on a recreational basketball team have drawn national attention for their racist nature. Tony Rue took photos of jerseys at a recreational league basketball game held Sunday at West Clermont Middle School. Photo courtesy of WCPO-TV
Jerseys worn by Kings schools students playing on a recreational basketball team have drawn national attention for their racist nature. Tony Rue took photos of jerseys at a recreational league basketball game held Sunday at West Clermont Middle School. Photo courtesy of WCPO-TV

UPDATED at 2 p.m.:

The leader of Mason Schools cites “uptick” of racist remarks in schools and community and warns they will not be tolerated.

Superintendent Gail Kist-Kline sent an email message Thursday to school parents in Warren County’s largest school system in the aftermath of a district teacher using an insensitive and historically deadly racial remark with an African-American student.

“We have seen an uptick in the number of racially and culturally insensitive comments in our schools and community,” wrote Kist-Kline.

“Sometimes these are said out of genuine ignorance. As a district, we want to be very clear, racial slurs or any behavior that discriminates against others are NOT(sic) acceptable.

“When adults act in a way that is not in line with our values, we lose trust. In our district we take corrective action to address these situations, but we need to do more. We will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified staff members that lift up our district’s values. We must ensure that ALL(sic) Mason City Schools’ students are welcomed, valued and cared for while at school,” she wrote.

“Now is the time for us to be courageous and have explicit conversations about racism, sexism, and other discrimination that threaten our greatness. Everyone has the responsibility to act when we see issues in our schools and community.

We will continue to engage our community so that we are all working to enhance the climate in our schools. We are best when we bring out the best in each other. Let’s work together, hold each other accountable, and lift up our values,” said Kist-Kline.

INITIAL STORY:

They are neighboring Warren County school districts, share the same township and are among the top academic performers among all Southwest Ohio schools.

But this week finds officials at both Kings and Mason schools scrambling in the wake of incidents that involve race that have drawn national attention.

Kings this week saw a school board member announce his pending resignation after his son was among a non-school, recreational basketball team – using a Kings gym – to be seen wearing jerseys with racist slurs printed as their backs.

MORE: Kings school board member resigns in wake of racist incident

And days later, Mason Schools officials are apologizing for a white teacher’s “lynching” remark to an African-America middle school student and promising changes.

“We’re going to work hard on this,” said Kings Spokeswoman Dawn Gould, referencing the multiple efforts by district officials in the 4,300-student district to address concerns of the community regarding the incident.

On Friday, Kings officials were planning to address students from Kings High School about the racist jerseys as part of a regularly scheduled group meetings.

Both districts are largely within the Deerfield Twp. borders and are among the most affluent communities in Greater Cincinnati’s northern suburbs.

Kings’ enrollment is 2.3 percent African-American, while black students comprise 4 percent of Mason’s 10,400 students.

Both districts are regularly cited by national publications as being among the academically highest quality performers of Ohio’s 608 public school systems.

“Kings is a high-performing district with great students. Like many other schools around the country, this recent issue is an area we need to work on,” Gould said.

Mason Schools officials said the December classroom incident at Mason Middle School was a clear violation of proper behavior by one of their teachers. The district has acknowledged that a teacher made a mistake after a black student reported that he was told he might be lynched if he didn’t get back to work, according to the Associated Press.

Tanisha Agee-Bell said a white teacher at Mason Middle School made the comment to her 13-year-old son during class in December.

“Sometimes we mess up. Clearly that was the case here,” said Mason schools spokeswoman Tracey Carson. “And even though this teacher did not set out to hurt a child – clearly that happened too.”

The teacher - Renee Thole – faces district disciplinary action but district officials would not comment further on what job actions she may face.

“Our district will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified (non-teaching) staff members that lift up our district’s values,” said Carson.

On Tuesday, Kings school board member Kerry McKiernan announced his intention to retire during an emotional exchange at a board meeting, saying he needed to do so to be accountable for his son’s role the basketball team’s wearing of the racist jerseys.

McKiernan did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Kings officials said as of Thursday he has yet to submit a written resignation letter to the board, which next meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kings Education Center at 1797 King Ave.

WCPO-TV and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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After two decades with his district, this area superintendent is retiring. Here’s his story.

Published: Saturday, May 19, 2018 @ 12:37 PM


            Eric Herman, retiring superintendent of the Troy City Schools, said students’ needs haven’t change over the years.
Eric Herman, retiring superintendent of the Troy City Schools, said students’ needs haven’t change over the years.

Eric Herman has seen a lot of changes in his nearly 38 years in education, but he said one thing hasn’t changed: the kids.

Herman, who graduated from high school in West Carrollton, will retire this summer after 20 years with the Troy City Schools. He has been superintendent since spring 2011.

Herman attended college, played football and coached football in Kansas before returning home in the early 1980s to operate a print shop in West Carrollton.

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He had that business about eight years and was coaching when he was lured back into education by a former coach and educator Dean Pond, who asked him to teach driver’s education at West Carrollton.

That led to a football coach and physical education teaching job in Kettering, a year at Urbana schools and then a return to Kettering for an administration job as a unit principal.

Another former West Carrollton coach, David Dolph, introduced Herman to Troy schools as assistant junior high principal in 1998.

“I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Dolph and said, ‘Why not?’” he recalled.

Herman served as principal at Hook Elementary, junior high principal, high school principal, director of secondary curriculum, director of technology, director of K-12 curriculum and assistant superintendent under Superintendent Tom Dunn on his path to becoming superintendent.

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“This was the last place I thought I would have ended my career,” Herman said from the superintendent’s office at the Board of Education next to Troy High School.

He said the elementary school job was “a blast” and he liked being high school principal because he was around the students a lot.

“I got back into education to be around the kids,” he said. “I still believe kids are the same as when we were kids. They still want structure and discipline and want someone to care about them.”

Mark Barhorst, district business manager/director of human resources, praised Herman’s efforts during the Board of Education’s recognition of retirees at its May meeting.

“He’s worn a lot of hats and done a lot of things for the school district,” Barhorst said. “When I began the thought process of interviewing for a job here, I talked to Marion Stout. She told me Troy was the best school district in the state of Ohio. I would have to say a big part of that has been Eric Herman.”

The Board of Education hired Chris Piper, from Triad Local Schools, as the new superintendent this spring. Herman had the following advice for his successor: “Take time to learn the job. Don’t be quick to change a lot until you see how it operates. Every school is different.”

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‘Rookie year’ for Middletown Schools superintendent shows wins, losses

Published: Saturday, May 19, 2018 @ 9:00 AM

Middletown City Schools leader Marlon Styles Jr. reviews his first year at the helm of the district.

For the former high school baseball coach who is now Middletown’s school leader, school years are like sports seasons and his rookie stint as superintendent wasn’t great but overall had more wins than losses.

That’s solid progress when talking about Middletown Schools, which has a troubled past of only sporadic academic success in recent years.

But as the school year comes to a close this month, first-year Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. looks back on a district-wide revitalization he started in August and credits school staffers with pushing it forward.

MORE: Meet the new Middletown Schools Superintendent

The 39-year-old Styles launched the “Middie Modernization Movement” within days of taking his first superintendent’s job as head of the Butler County city school system. The new mantra has proven popular beyond school campuses, having energized community and business sector support for the district.

But turning around one of Southwest Ohio’s lowest performing school districts — and its 6,300 students — doesn’t happen in a single school season, said Styles.

“We had a good rookie season but definitely not rookie of the year,” said Styles, a former top official with Lakota Local Schools who used to coach baseball for Northwest High School in Hamilton County.

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“But the rookie season we’ve had has been successful because of the amount of support we have received as a district both internally — from all our stakeholders — and our school and business community,” said Styles. “The city has been phenomenal in how they have supported everything we have done this year for our school kids.”

Those include sweeping and historic reforms in how Middletown approaches teaching and learning. More than a slogan, the modernization of the district under Styles’ leadership is fueled by increased attention to student data and academic performance.

The district is also undergoing a historical, $96 million physical transformation for students in grades 7-12 as construction wraps up on a new 135,000-square-foot middle school — adjacent to a renovated Middletown High School.

MORE: See video of drone flyover of new Middletown School construction

When classes open Sept. 4 for all schools, the Middletown Middle School will feature one of the most innovative learning spaces in the region, with grade-specific building wings and common learning areas between classrooms.

The annual Ohio Department of Education report cards on public school districts is scheduled to be released in early fall. Regardless of how Middletown Schools performed during the current school year — in recent years the district has been among the lowest scorers in the region — a foundation immeasurable by standardized student testing has been laid, said Styles.

There has been a “contagious belief across the organization that we can do it … and we can do it together.”

The Middie Modernization Movement, said Styles, “has provided us clarity, it has provided us direction, it’s motivated us and it has kept us focused on our priorities,” which includes having each high school graduate well-versed in academic training for college or trade school or immediate, work-place employment.

Middletown Board of Education President Chris Urso describes Styles at the end of his initial school year as “everything as advertised.”

“He is exciting and dynamic, and as a district we are in a good place. He has a good balance and he does well looking at data … but at the same time having the relationship and people building skills that people like to connect to,” said Urso.

“We have noticed that with our staff, people are getting inspired,” he said. “It’s been dramatic.”

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Butler County sheriff, school leaders react to Texas school shooting

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 2:32 PM

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones wants schools to improve security

Area school leaders pointed Friday to the Texas school shooting as another in a long list of reasons why they are working to improve school security.

But the top law enforcement officer in Butler County said some school districts aren’t moving fast enough and falling short.

MORE: Butler County Sheriff says schools have to do more for security

The shooting deaths of 10 — nine students, one teacher — and wounding of at least six others Friday morning at the Santa Fe High School grabbed the attention of local school leaders as did the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February that left 17 dead.

Edgewood Schools Superintendent Russ Fussnecker said the horrific killings further reinforced his Butler County district’s decision to add armed school security officers to all its school buildings.

MORE: Edgewood Schools adds armed officers to all buildings

“This tragedy reaffirms our decision to add additional SROs (school resource officers) to our district,” said Fussnecker of Edgewood’s decision to add armed officers in all five schools of the rural district.

“This was the best investment we could make to protect our students and staff. We take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety of our students and staff every day,” he said.

Earlier this week in Illinois at Dixon High School, a student fired shots at school resource officer Mark Dallas. Dallas returned fire and wounded the shooter.

In March in Maryland, an armed school officer at Great Mills High School fired on a student shooter who had wounded two, bringing him down.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones — a long-time advocate for adding armed personnel to schools — took to social media in the hours after the Santa Fe school shooting to repeat his earlier, public pressuring of local school officials to move faster to make sure every school has either armed officers, personnel or at least access to weapons for properly trained school staffers.

“When will it be clear what we need to do to protect our children?” Jones tweeted today on his social media account.

In a short, online video posted on Facebook, Jones also said “I’m telling you — and I’ve been saying all along — we have got to take care of our schools.”

“We got to make them a hard target (armed) not a soft target. And this is for the school boards, pay attention. Make these schools safe. We need school resource officers in every school and we need to arm the personnel in there,” said Jones, who in the wake of the Parkland school shooting deaths offered free concealed carry weapon (CCW) training for Butler County teachers.

“School boards, it’s on you. It’s your responsibility,” said Jones, who has promised to post billboard messages critical of elected school boards he believes are lagging in school security.

MORE: Sheriff blasts local school boards for lagging security - ‘I will be their worst enemy’

Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota Schools — Butler County’s largest school system — said Friday the Texas school shooting was both heartbreakingly sad and further motivation to continue his district’s security improvements already in motion.

“It gives us pause and makes us reflect on the current practices and the direction we’ve been going with (school) safety,” said Miller, who oversees the 16,500-student district and its 22 school buildings.

MORE: Butler County school leaders explore new school security tax

“We have cameras and many other things in our buildings that we have increased” this school year, he said, in addition to armed security officers supplied by both the Butler County Sheriff, which patrols Liberty Twp. schools and West Chester Twp. Police, who patrol Lakota schools there.

“But it’s another sad day and we’ve had too many of these,” he said.

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Tipp school official disciplined for unapproved bank account

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 @ 12:55 PM


            Galen Gingerich is shown when he was Broadway Elementary principal in Tipp City. The now assistant superintendent was disciplined by the superintendent this month for his handling of funds in an unapproved bank account. FILE
Galen Gingerich is shown when he was Broadway Elementary principal in Tipp City. The now assistant superintendent was disciplined by the superintendent this month for his handling of funds in an unapproved bank account. FILE

TIPP CITY – The Tipp City Exempted Village Schools’ assistant superintendent “engaged in serious misconduct” by keeping money in an unapproved bank account, according to a letter from his boss.

Assistant Superintendent Galen Gingerich received a 10-day suspension and was stripped of five vacation days. It came as a disciplinary measure imposed for keeping money in an unapproved bank account from 1999 to 2015 while previously serving as principal of a district elementary school, according to personnel documents obtained by this news organization.

District Superintendent Gretta Kumpf told Gingerich in a letter dated May 14 that she found he had “engaged in serious misconduct warranting discipline.”

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Gingerich was placed on paid administrative leave without explanation by Kumpf and district Treasurer Dave Stevens on April 11. He returned to work Monday when the district issued a statement saying an internal investigation was complete and the situation addressed appropriately.

In the letter, Kumpf said she found Gingerich collected public money through fundraising activities at Broadway Elementary School and failed, as required by the Ohio Revised Code and board policy, to turn the money into the treasurer’s office for deposit into an account approved by the board of education.

The account was discovered when a bank statement was inadvertently forwarded to Stevens’ office.

Kumpf said when Gingerich was asked by Stevens about the account, his response was “you were not supposed to know about this.” She wrote she found that statement “troubling.”

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An investigation by Stevens showed “much of the money” in the account was spent for school-related purposes such as food, beverages and supplies for staff meetings and school functions, when support organizations intended for the funds to be used to purchase technology and equipment to donate to the school library, Kumpf said.

“You are maintaining your employment with the school district because Mr. Stevens could not conclude the expenditures you made from this bank account were for personal or other illegitimate purposes,” Kumpf wrote. “However, you showed extremely poor judgment in your operation of this bank account in violation of the aforementioned board policies.”

Gingerich took control of the bank account in 1999 while principal after outside school support organizations disbanded, the letter said. Money was deposited from fundraisers and spent without knowledge of district treasurers, the letter said.

The account was not used after Gingerich left the school as principal and became the assistant superintendent in mid-2015, Stevens said. State auditors were notified about the account, he said.

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The 10-day suspension will be credited to the time when Gingerich was on leave. Arrangements were being made for repayment to the district of 10 days of pay Gingerich received, Stevens said.

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