Parents protest Orange High principal’s demotion

CorrespondentJune 1, 2012 

Armond Hankins

CONTRIBUTED

— A handful of Orange High School parents took their online battle to keep Armond Hankins as the school’s principal to the school board Tuesday night.

The Orange County Schools Board of Education board decided at its May 14 meeting to offer Hankins a four-year contract as an assistant principal at an unnamed school rather than retain him as Orange High principal when his two-year term ends June 30. Hankins has said he does not intend to accept that offer.

Phyllis Mack Horton, mother of an Orange High School freshman, spoke first to the board, citing academic improvement achieved under Hankins’ leadership.

“What measures are you using to evaluate this principal?” she asked.

School officials have said state law bars them from discussing personnel decisions in open session – and board Chairwoman Donna Coffey reiterated that point Tuesday night before the parents spoke. The district has specified, in response to inferences made in an online petition supporting Hankins, who is African-American, that race was not a factor in his demotion. Horton created the petition, which was signed by 165 people Friday morning.

Aside from the online effort, Horton said Tuesday she has been contacted personally by a variety of people about Hankins’ demotion.

“It was one elected official’s response that resonated and who said, ‘Phyllis, sometimes people are not conscious of the decisions they make,’ ” Horton said. “I pray that you, superintendent and members of the Orange County school board, did not consciously decide to demote the Orange High School principal without thinking of the students, parents, staff and community. … I pray that you didn’t make a conscious decision to demote someone not based on job performance but simply because they wouldn’t do what you wanted them to do.”

Horton said a new Orange High School principal would be the school’s fifth in six years, a point not lost on Bryant Colson, father of former and current Orange High students.

“I hope that this principal’s tenure at Orange High School was not merely a short-lived attempt at diversity and inclusivity knowing that you only have to deal with it for a two-year contract term,” Colson said. “If there are any issues at OHS, it took years for them to develop and the task of correcting it will certainly take longer than a two-year contract term.”

Colson said that the lot of a leader who is “a person of color” is not easy.

“Let me tell you how to lead, supervise, or manage as a person of color,” he said. “You have to all but ‘walk on eggshells.’ At some point you are going to be too dark, too tall, voice too deep, too intelligent or too confident – that’s always construed as arrogance – and you will invariably be intimidating, frightening or threatening to someone. Calls are made, meetings are held and you will find yourself having to defend your ethnicity.” Colson closed his statement by urging the board to reconsider its decision.

Charlene Campbell, mother of Stanford Middle School and Orange High School students, also addressed the race issue.

“We were told race was not a deciding factor, but sometimes you can be persuaded to make a decision that is supporting someone else’s hidden agenda,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately the superintendent and the board members have been persuaded.”

All three parents questioned figures Coffey cited in a letter in Wednesday’s Chapel Hill News that said 38 percent of Orange County Schools administrators and 21 percent of the district’s teachers are black. Campbell presented figures to the board that identify 36 percent of administrators and 11 percent of certified teachers as minority.

The three parents made their statements during the public comment period of the board meeting.

The board took no action on the issue Tuesday.

Dareff: bdareff@gmail.com

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