Harrisonville School Superintendent Bryan McDonald was named the Harrisonville Area Chamber of Commerce “Educator of the Year” this week, even as public concern about the security of his job continued to grow.
The 30 to 40 community members attending the school board’s monthly meeting Tuesday gave the superintendent a standing ovation when Chamber President Obie Carl made the announcement. Carl said that in the 50 years of the chamber’s existence, there have never been so many nominations for the same person.
By meeting’s end, board member Deb Welhoff would be applauded by the same crowd in the same manner after she tearfully passed out copies of her resignation letter — which cited health reasons — and asked that it be included on the board’s February meeting agenda.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I have to do this,” Welhoff said before the board adjourned, without her, to their second closed session of the evening.
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The board has held numerous closed meetings during the past six months, and some district patrons have speculated that at least some have been held to discuss the superintendent’s dismissal.
In a Jan. 14 post to the Democrat Missourian’s Facebook page, Christie Gray-Mangan wrote that McDonald had become the target of a “witch hunt” by several board members despite his having made what she said are very positive changes very quickly.
A posting on the Harrisonville Parents Taking Action page on Facebook noted that a board subcommittee had met privately on personnel issues.
“The ONLY personnel that the BOE subcommittee would have authority over is the Superintendent. The secrecy and urgency is enough to cause concerns in regards to the job security of our Superintendent. SHOW YOUR SUPPORT NOW — NOW IS THE TIME TO GET INVOLVED.”
The superintendent started his job with the district during the 2011-2012 school year. He declined to comment when contacted Tuesday about public concern over his job security.
Board president Marie Vallee also declined comment, but said she was pleased that the chamber honored McDonald. “It was a wonderful award for him.”
Vallee said Welhoff’s resignation was “a total surprise.”
“I’m just heart-broken over this. She’s a wonderful board member and has done a lot for the school district and has been a personal friend.”
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Gray-Mangan said that because of McDonald’s influence, she had seen more attention paid to academic achievement and to successfully initiating community involvement.
He has the support of teachers, administrators, parents and students, she said, adding that an email address is currently circulating privately as part of a “last-ditch effort” to support McDonald by providing an avenue for patrons to convey concerns about the board’s actions.
“We’re starting to lose some of our greatest teachers and administrators because of what’s happening to the district and because of what might happen to them personally,” she said.
Gray-Mangan has two children currently in Harrisonville schools and another who graduated from the district. As a parent, a school volunteer and someone who knows numerous teachers, she said she has witnessed those positive changes “from the inside.”
“I’ve been here my whole life. I can see it’s a totally different environment,” she said. “Since he’s been here, I’ve just seen such incredibly positive changes. If we were to lose Dr. McDonald, it would be a horrible loss to our community and our students.”
Carl, the chamber president, echoed that praise and said he had never seen such an outpouring of respect and admiration for an administrator in Harrisonville.
Not only do the students now have laptop computers, he added, but McDonald is a down-to-earth man who reads books to elementary school children, directs traffic at the high school and goes above and beyond his Chamber of Commerce board responsibilities.
“The response we received from our members is a message to the (school) board to realize what a great superintendent they have and to let him run the district as it should be run,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
In other action Tuesday, the school board:
▪ Accepted the resignations of Director of Special Services Leigh Gruber and Harrisonville Middle School physical education teacher Reuben Hartzler.
▪ Approved the Missouri Options Program, which permits full-time, public school-enrolled students ages 17 to 20, who are at risk of dropping out or not graduating with their classmates, the chance to earn a standard high school diploma. The program, which has been approved by the state school board, is a competency-based program in which students take a high school equivalency exam.
During the portion of the meeting designated for public comment, Marci Bauml, who has been critical of many board decisions, noted that Jan. 25-31 is School Board Recognition Week.
“I wonder how many people realize what it actually takes to prepare for a school board meeting,” Bauml said before thanking the board and naming district staff members who make behind-the-scenes preparations each month.