The Richmond County school district is about to make wholesale staff changes and to spend $1 million or more in federal grant money to try to turn around Laney High School -- to avoid the state taking it over as a failing facility.
But a growing group of Laney parents and boosters is convinced the principal, herself, needs turning around -- or maybe just to give her the boot.
It is most revealing that Ben Hasan, a civic activist who once attended Laney, stepped forward to offer his help arranging for more volunteers -- and was prepared to come to Principal Toneitha Beasley's defense -- but has come away with a belief that not only should she not be principal at Laney, she should not be a principal anywhere in the district.
Owing to Ms. Beasley's strength in education and curriculum, he says, perhaps she would be best to serve in the central office.
But her chief weakness, according to Hasan and others -- a lack of people skills -- seems to make her a poor candidate for principal of a school that needs drastic help.
Hasan says he has had multiple calls ignored, and that information he asked for from Beasley -- background information to help sell Laney to prospective volunteers -- was promised in a matter of hours several weeks ago, and had yet to be proffered as of late last week.
At a July 8 meeting with 20-plus prospective volunteers, Hasan said, Beasley was strangely short on gratitude -- and, in contrast, bizarrely issued a warning to them that their volunteer efforts could be terminated if the school so chooses. Then she oddly used Hasan's name in an example of a wayward volunteer whose help could ultimately be turned down by the school -- certainly, an impolitic choice of hypothetical examples, since Hasan was one of the leading volunteers.
Nor did she publicly thank him for his exemplary efforts.
Others have cited Beasley's poor record of responsiveness to parents; her poor record of returning messages; and general dismissiveness.
Beasley's public relations problems have risen to the level that the Board of Education member most supportive of her, Venus Cain, told her that she needed an attitude adjustment.
What happened then is a matter of dispute: Hasan says that at a meeting last week of concerned parents and Laney boosters, Cain said that Beasley had responded that she either couldn't or wouldn't change her attitude. Cain maintained to us that she didn't say that.
Regardless, Cain says, "We're working on it." They need to. We're about to sink a boatload of taxpayer money into turning that ship around; the captain had better be capable.
It is frankly alarming that prospective volunteers such as Hasan who want only to help Laney get ahead have been so turned off by the principal that they want her removed.
The group -- there were some 45 at last week's meeting, Hasan says, including students -- is not going away. Members met Friday night to discuss further action, and plan a march from Laney at 4:30 Tuesday to a protest at the Board of Education office downtown at 5:30.
Interestingly enough, we tried to get a meeting with Ms. Beasley, and could not.
Board of Education members, take note: It would be unconscionable if the school district were to allow a million or more to be spent at Laney -- and half the core-curriculum teachers replaced -- if the principal in place is a hindrance to progress.