We Think: School Board Schizophrenia

We Think: School Board Schizophrenia

March 22, 2017.

This week the Loudoun County School Board showed leadership — almost.

The unanimous vote to terminate the continuous employment of Dominion High School principal John Brewer was decisive and, we believe, correct. It signaled the board’s belief that leadership starts at the top, and that principals are accountable for what goes wrong in their schools. And things did go wrong at Dominion, irrespective of Brewer’s longstanding record of achievement.

But then things got bizarre. In a second action immediately following the first — and that was initially combined as a single motion by chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) — the board offered Brewer a poison pill, and one that undermined the integrity of voting to let him go.

On a 6-3 vote, they offered Brewer his job back, but only under a one-year-at-a-time contract for three years, and on what was characterized by one board member as a probationary basis. It included Brewer agreeing to child abuse counseling directed by Superintendent Williams (who had earlier recommended that Brewer be fired), as well as counseling on interactions with and among his staff, and on the separation of church and state in public schools. And, if he accepted that offer within 10 days, he would also receive a letter of reprimand.

Brewer had been on administrative leave since last December and the Brian Damron matter had been the subject of intensive LCPS investigations and closed door meetings for months.

This job offer was the equivalent of putting a noose around Brewer’s neck. Why offer it at all, especially after just voting to fire him.

Surely, school board members would opine on the actions announced at their public meeting on March 20. They would explain their decision to the parents and students of Dominion, the loyal supporters of Brewer and all citizens of the county.

They didn’t, and instead gave everyone the “no comment” treatment.  It appeared orchestrated, as though these two decisions had been made behind closed doors and board members agreed to keep the public in the dark as to the reasons. Even those who voted nay to giving Brewer a way back in — the eclectic political trio of Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) — had no comment.

Earth to school board. The public is owed an explanation for what you did and why. You can do so without sharing confidential personnel matters. You failed on March 20, and again during your meeting on March 21 when the most that was heard was a statement from Debbie Rose (Algonkian) calling for community unity. That’s a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t address the merits.

Tell us why you fired John Brewer, and why it wasn’t an irrational act to conditionally offer him his job back.

Tell us also what you’ve learned, so this doesn’t happen again.