North Carolina

No one knows why NC high school principal is leaving — but students sure aren’t happy

Students at a North Carolina high school will be starting the new academic year with a new principal later this month, and they aren’t happy about it

Bennett Jones, former principal at Clayton High School, won’t be coming back for the 2019-2020 school year for unknown reasons, and parents are demanding answers from the school board while students are petitioning to have him back.

Jones had been principal of the school since 2016, according to Dolores Gill, a spokeswoman with Johnston County Public Schools. He was named Principal of the Year for Johnston County Schools for the 2017-2018 school year, according to the district.

Jones started a new job as lead administrator for the Choice Plus Program on Aug. 12, the same day parents were told via a ConnectEd message that Jones would no longer be principal, Gill said.

Gill said in an email that the reason Jones isn’t returning is a “personnel matter” and that she cannot comment on it.

But parents want answers from the district.

Students and parents “packed” the school board meeting on Tuesday to show support for Jones, according to ABC11, the News & Observer’s media partner.

“I feel like the parents, and students and staff at this school deserve to know what’s going on and not be left in the dark,” parent Leigh Narron said, according to ABC11. “I feel it’s unfair to him, personally.”

A petition started by a Clayton High student has more than 2,300 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

“The student body at Clayton has created a bond with Mr. Jones,” the petition says. “Mr. Jones created a relaxed and friendly environment where we could learn effectively. His absence will greatly affect the students and everyday campus life. We want our Principal back!”

Gill said the school district is aware of the petition. Jones has not commented publicly, ABC11 reported.

Earlier this summer, the school district launched an investigation into “allegations of grade-tampering” for a student athlete at Clayton High School to maintain eligibility, the Johnstonian News reported in June.

The outcome of the investigation in unclear, according to ABC11, but parents say there was “no wrongdoing.”

Chase Ferrell, who is the school district’s safety and auxiliary officer, will serve as “acting principal,” Gill said.

One student told ABC11 that Jones was more than a principal.

“He’s a leader and he’s a father to those who may not know what a father’s supposed to look like,” Stephen Lines said, according to ABC11.

Another student told ABC11 it’s a shame he’s not coming back.

“He was an inspiration for so many kids at this school,” Thomas Ziegler said, according to ABC11. “We’re just going to miss him. We want him back.”

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Bailey Aldridge is a reporter covering real-time news in North and South Carolina. She has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.