Originally created 01/31/05

Groups wonder why principal was dismissed

An earlier school board decision to replace a Lincoln County school principal has resulted in a meeting Tuesday with community activists and the superintendent hoping to reverse the judgement.

At the Jan. 4 Lincoln County Board of Education meeting, the five-member board voted not to renew the contract of Marilyn Bell, the principal at Lincoln County Elementary School.

In a 3-2 vote, board members Marcy Remsen, Becky Reed and Wayne Williford voted against extending Ms. Bell's contract, while members Robert Hearst and Robert Williams voted to keep her on staff for next year.

Some community members are not happy with the board's decision, including members of the Lincolnton-based Twilight Improvement Association, a 40-year-old civic group originally formed to function similarly to the NAACP. Because Ms. Bell is black, some residents believe race had some bearing on the vote.

Kenneth Elam, the president of the Lincoln County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he does not plan to represent his group in an official manner - as long as developments for Ms. Bell's future are positive. If not, a march on her behalf could occur, he said.

At issue is Lincoln County's history of not hiring and maintaining qualified black teachers and administrators, Mr. Elam said.

"We're upset about Ms. Bell not being rehired," he said. "But this is part of a larger issue here. We're talking a history of unfairness in hiring practices and law enforcement.

"Nobody expected this lady to be kicked out," he said. "We're proud of her, and she's doing a splendid job. She enforces policy, and a lot of people just don't like that."

Mr. Elam said many residents are upset that Mr. Remsen voted against the contract extension, although he was elected to the board in November.

"He had only been on the board a couple of days and was voting against her. He didn't have enough background about her to make that type of decision," Mr. Elam said.

Many telephone messages were left at Mrs. Reed's home and at Mr. Remsen's house and place of employment at the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department seeking comments about their decision. Mr. Williford said he was not willing to explain why he voted not to renew Ms. Bell's contract. He said an explanation of their no-vote would be provided at Tuesday's meeting.

The Rev. Denise Freeman, a former Lincoln County school board member and a black woman, said the issue is not a racial one, considering that many of the principal's supporters are white teachers and administrators.

"It's more than a black or white issue. It's about our community finally having a good, Christian woman who's qualified, with an excellent reputation, and she's already doing the job," the Rev. Freeman said.

Ms. Bell is in her first year as principal but was the school's assistant principal for the past five years.

She was unwilling to comment for this report, but her boss did speak on her behalf.

"I recommended her, and I feel she's a qualified principal," said Randall Edmunds, the 24-year superintendent of Lincoln County schools.

He said he disagrees with the board's decision and hopes it will be overturned Tuesday night. He emphasized that he would like to see the board change its vote and return Ms. Bell to her position for the upcoming school year.

Mr. Elam agrees.

"I hope they reinstate her and give her a public apology for why they refused to renew her contract," he said.

He said Ms. Bell has never received reprimands, warnings, or complaints about her duties.

Mr. Edmunds confirmed that Ms. Bell's personnel file as an administrator is flawless.

"She has had satisfactory job evaluations," the superintendent said. "Some things were discussed concerning making improvements and the positive aspects of her actions."

Tuesday's board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Lincoln County Board of Education Building on Metasville Road. For more information, call the board offices at 359-3742.

Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or tim.cox@augustachronicle.com.


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