Originally created 03/17/04

High school gets new principal



EDGEFIELD - Next year, Strom Thurmond High School will have a principal with Aiken County ties, the Edgefield County School Board voted Tuesday night.

The board's white chairman, Brad Covar, voted with the four black board members to select Greg Thompson, a black assistant principal at North Augusta High School, as Strom Thurmond's new principal.

District 7 member Leslie Culpeper and District 2 member Andy Livingstone voted against Superintendent Sharon Keesley's recommendation to hire Mr. Thompson.

"I voted against the recommendation primarily for the compensation package he will receive," Mr. Culpeper said. "His salary fell in the proper range. His experience versus what he will get in return doesn't match."

Mr. Covar said he did not think the decision was based on race and said Mr. Thompson was simply the next qualified applicant.

"I think he is the most appropriate person to fill the position," he said. "A lot of things are voted on 4-3 against racial lines, and that isn't always the case."

The board was divided by race when it voted against Dr. Keesley's initial recommendation to hire Suzanne O'Neal, who has been with the school district for more than 27 years, for the post Feb. 10.

Reached by phone Monday, Mr. Thompson said he would not discuss the situation while working for Aiken County.

The decision to hire Mr. Thompson comes three months after the school board settled a racial dispute over the school's Rebel planter mascot by choosing a blue-tick coon hound as a replacement.

Principal Chris Clancy announced earlier this school year that he will not return.

On Feb. 10, the board's four black members voted against hiring Mrs. O'Neal. After the board rejected her, Dr. Keesley said she had to look again at qualified applicants.

Twenty-five people applied for the job, but only 10 were qualified. Six applicants were interviewed for the post, and Mr. Thompson was the next qualified person, she said.

"He is extremely qualified, and he did well during the interview process," she said. "He brings a lot to the table, but he does not have ties to Edgefield, that I know of."

David Mathis, the school board's assistant superintendent for instruction, said the board does not have a policy that requires the school's principal to live inside the county. Mr. Thompson lives in Martinez.

"Obviously, we would prefer to have that person be a part of the community, but we don't have a requirement," Mr. Covar said.

Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395 or peter.gilchrist@augustachronicle.com.