Jefferson Twp. school board ousts both principals; parents upset

The Jefferson Twp. school board voted to non-renew the contracts of both school principals in the tiny district southwest of Dayton, just after the end of the school year.

SeMone Epps had been principal of Jefferson’s Blairwood Elementary for five years, and Walter Sledge led the district’s junior/senior high school for the same period. Their contracts are scheduled to expire at the end of June, with pay through July, according to Treasurer Craig Jones.

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According to district documents, the board voted 4-0 to non-renew the contracts at a May 29 meeting, on a recommendation from longtime Superintendent Richard Gates. Board member Emmett Orr abstained from the vote, which came after several residents spoke out in support of Epps, and after the board held an hour-long closed session to consider “expiring contracts, evaluations and charges or complaints.”

Gates did not respond to requests for comment on the moves Wednesday. School board President C.V. Mitchell could not be reached for comment.

The timeline for hiring new principals was unclear, as the positions were not posted on the local education hiring consortium’s website Wednesday, two weeks after the nonrenewal vote.

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Epps attended this Monday’s school board meeting and said she is not sure why she lost her job, citing strong preliminary scores on this year’s state tests, and three years of A’s and B’s on the state report card’s K-3 Literacy improvement measure.

“I was a proud principal at Blairwood Elementary. We have done a lot of good things,” Epps said, pointing to a pilot tutoring program that helped sixth graders this year. “I want to give a shout out to Blairwood because I have a hard-working staff, and I’m a hard-worker. I have earned the right to be there and I deserve to be there.”

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Jefferson Twp. ranks in the bottom 20 percent of Ohio school districts in median income, and its overall state test scores usually beat only Dayton and Trotwood schools locally. There have been bright spots, with the high school earning B’s in graduation rate for 2014 and 2015, and the K-3 Literacy scores that Epps referenced ranking among the area’s very best in 2015 and 2016. But both of those grades were lower for 2016-17.

Jefferson is the smallest school district in the area, with just more than 300 students, according to state data. Another 200 students who live in the district attend school elsewhere via open enrollment, private school vouchers, or by choosing charter schools.

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LaTonya Benson, whose daughter attends Jefferson schools, said a group of parents and teachers came to Monday’s board meeting to try to get Epps’ job back, saying the parents love her.

“We’re not getting answers. They’re not telling us nothing. Everything is confidential,” Benson said. “We really don’t know anything.”

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