A principal concern

Leader's outburst needlessly overshadows school's health issues

If a student had carried himself as poorly as Principal Hartley Gibbons did at the school board meeting Tuesday night, he would be taken before a disciplinary tribunal and likely punished.

The principal at Terrace Manor Elementary School attempted to commandeer a Richmond County Board of Education committee meeting Tuesday night, talking over board members’ warnings that he was out of order and having to be escorted out by school safety officers.

When Terrace Manor came up 46th of 63 schools on a list of construction projects, he’d gone ballistic – jumping from his seat and loudly addressing the board from the microphone. He argued the 49-year-old school has problems with asbestos and mold and is making his teachers sick.

We certainly understand fears of sick buildings. Yet, the district has had this school inspected twice by two different entities, as recently as Nov. 6 and in mid-September, and neither inspection found mold or asbestos problems.

Perhaps the district could go the extra mile and interview staff and mull over whatever health records are available.

But the school board was presented with another concern at the school now, and that’s the principal.

If Mr. Gibbons countenanced such outbursts in his classrooms, his school would really
be sick. It would have to be closed, or put under new management.

What an awful lesson he gave the kids Tuesday, not to mention those who work under him.

Making his outburst even more outrageous is the fact that Terrace Manor has had millions spent on it in various phases over recent years, in increments of $661,000 and $3.3 million – the latter coming in a complete renovation in 2005. And although he threatened to go to the press inside the school board auditorium, once outside he refused to discuss his concerns with willing reporters. Instead, he paraded himself up and down the otherwise deserted sidewalk outside the district office wearing signs proclaiming his school unsafe.

This is no way for a principal to comport himself.

What does he want the district to do? Act on his own hunch, which flies in the face of scientific evidence? Who’s the unreasonable party in this affair?

Even if he felt the district was unresponsive, throwing a tantrum is no substitute for thoughtful, even bold action. As an alternative to his outburst, might he have marshaled staff and supporters in a respectful show of force at the meeting – and perhaps opened the matter up for comment to the press afterward?

Again, a student exhibiting such disregard for order and procedure would be disciplined. A principal, who ought to know better than a student, should receive no less. And that means more than paid leave, as he was put on Wednesday.

Late this week he announced he’s retiring.

We appreciate his evident passion for his employees’ welfare. But his behavior hardly serves their interests.

Again, we stand with the parents and teachers. If they’re still concerned about the health of the school, the district ought to keep looking into it. There are more invasive tests that can be performed. Consolidation of schools also might be something to consider.

But no one should approve of what this principal did. What if everyone behaved that way? What if students were that insolent to authority? How long would teachers and administrators put up with that?

“It’s a shame he had to do this,” one Terrace Manor patron said in support of Gibbons.

We agree.

Except that he didn’t.

Principal retires after being placed on leave for outburst
Terrace Manor principal placed on leave after outburst
Principal ejected from Richmond County school board committee meeting after outburst

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