School board hearing for principal Sean Kirksey lasts nearly 15 hours.
For most members of the Camdenton School board, Wednesday night was a sleepless one. The public personnel hearing for middle school Principal Sean Kirksey, kicked off at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and ran past midnight. The public portion of the hearing closed at 12:30 a.m. with school board members deliberating until 4 a.m.
The decision of the board has not been released. Under the provisions of the Missouri Sunshine Law, the board has 72 hours before it is required to release what action, if any, was taken and the vote.
Sean Kirksey is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of the hearing. Kirksey is accused of mishandling the spring MAP testing.
Sean Kirksey has three charges against him all pertaining to MAP testing including splitting a portion of the communication arts test into two days that was meant to be tested in one sitting, allowing untrained proctors administer and be with students in a testing room and not showing leadership in his role as a principal by violating DESE and board policies.
The school board now has the job of deciding if Kirksey is guilty of any charges against him. Throughout the course of the evening, a number of witnesses testified. At the beginning of the hearing, the large crowd was told the auditorium would be cleared if they were disruptive.
The administration's case, led by John Mickes, included several teachers and Camdenton R-III staff members, including Nancy Groves, the seventh grade communication arts department chair. Groves alleged that the a portion of the communication arts written portion of the MAP test was not split into two days until Sean Kirksey became principal. Groves outlined how she had concerns when he first talked about splitting the testing into two days in his first year as principal. She said that she set up a private meeting with him to voice her concerns.
"He smiled and said he was the administrator. It was his job to create the schedule and he would take the heat," she said.
Groves also remembers him asking her if students would do better on the MAP test if they had two days to complete the writing prompt to which she replied that any communication arts teacher would say that a student's writing is better when they let a rough draft rest. She clarified that she was not promoting the split at all.
When asked by board member Laura Martin why she did not voice her concerns to District Testing Coordinator Roma France or School Testing Coordinator Becky Long-Ruggles. Groves said, "I spent a lot of time wrestling with it, praying about it. I thought since it was forwarded, it would settle it one way or another."
When asked if Groves felt forced to give a test that she did not agree with how it was scheduled, she said, "I felt like being a recent widow, I didn't have a lot of options."
Other teachers and administrators that serve on the Building Leadership Team took the stand and spoke about the meeting that focused on MAP testing and splitting up the testing days. Attendees' perception of what happened in the meeting seemed to vary. Some recalled the meeting's discussion as collaborative and others felt as if Kirksey had the last word on the schedule.
When Superintendent Tim Hadfield began his testimony, he outlined his role in MAP testing which he described as "very little" since those duties are delegated to other staff in the district.
He told the board that he first became aware of potential issues with this year's MAP testing in a phone call on a Saturday afternoon. The phone call came from Dr. Brian Henry who was the employed by the district and who has students in the district. The call was regarding a teacher who was allegedly signaling students during testing and students who were left alone with untrained proctors.
Hadfield said that as soon as he hung up with Henry, he immediately called France and asked her to start an investigation first thing Monday morning and if she found enough evidence supporting the claims to self-report the issue to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
It was not until France initiated her investigation that she discovered that a test that was to be administered in one sitting had been broken up into two days.
Mickes questioned Hadfield about Sean Kirksey's contract which includes a section that states, "The Principal acknowledges that one of the essential job duties of this position is positive communication with the community. Any activity, criminal or otherwise, that becomes known to the District after entering into this contract that inhibits the Principal's ability to effectively serve as a leader in the school community or in the community at large will be considered grounds for termination."
Another section states, "The Principal's employment is subject to, and the Principal agrees to comply with, all duties and requirements applicable to his or her position, as directed by the District or Superintendent and/or as stated in any performance standards and criteria, policies, procedures or rules of the District, whether adopted or modified before or after the effective date of this contract. The Principal acknowledges that he or she has access to complete copies of all such performance standards or criteria, policies, procedures and rules and agrees to read such performance standards or criteria, policies, procedures, and rules immediately upon execution of this contract. The Principal further acknowledges the importance of maintaining, during the term of this Agreement, an updated knowledge of such standards, criteria, policies, rules and regulations. The Principal also agrees to comply with all federal, state and local laws."
When asked what his recommendation would be for the board, he said, "I would recommend his contract would be terminated."
The defense raised a number of questions regarding who reported the issues and asked Hadfield if he had thought of having someone besides France conduct the investigation. He said that he felt as if France had never had issues before and had satisfied her duties as outlined by DESE, so he thought she could continue handling the investigation.
Hadfield plans on added stronger oversight from the central office when it comes to schedules and administering the exam in the future.
Pat McWhirter, a counselor in the CMS Guidance office, took the stand and recounted the times that she found untrained proctors administering the exam that Sean Kirksey was to administer. She added that after the investigation began, he came to her office and questioned her about the times she had covered his testing. He told her that she had only been there one time, but in fact she had been there two times.
"I told him that's not what I remember. I administered a math test and communication arts test," she said, adding that she felt as if he was attempting to pressure her into changing her story.
When Sean Kirksey later took the stand for a second time, he said that he only saw her in the room one time and not until he found out later did he know that she had been in there two separate occasions.
When asked by Jay Kirksey, his attorney, to say whatever he would like related to the charges to the board, Kirksey said, "I would simply say I made an assumption that what we were doing was alright because I had not been told otherwise. I would not knowingly put this district in this position."
Shortly after midnight, both parties began wrapping up their cases. In closing, Mickes said he felt there was a pattern Sean Kirksey follows, picking and choosing the rules that he wants to follow.
"When you get that information, if you are really concerned about doing the right thing, you call DESE, you'll call the central office," Mickes said.
Jay Kirksey began his closing statement by talking about the car ride between him and his cousin, Sean Kirksey, to the hearing. Jay Kirksey said his client told him that he had peace but was concerned for the teachers that now had added pressure from the hearing.
Jay went on to say, "You cannot be guilty of something that is not even your responsibility. They have to prove that this man knowingly did what they charged him with even when it was not his responsibility."
He closed his statement by reminding the board of the decision they have before them.
"The measure you choose will also be measured unto you. Voice the truth. You are going to effect someone's life astronomically," Jay Kirksey said.
Due to the split schedule, Camdenton R-III district did not get credit for more than 200 scores.
Throughout the day, a large crowd, many of whom were supporters of Sean Kirksey trickled in and out of the auditorium. The crowd dwindled as the hearing went on late into the evening and early morning.