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Decision reversed: Randolph back in as HCHS principal

Albert T. Randolph is back in as Halifax County High School principal.

A public outcry from teachers, former teachers and concerned members of the community who packed the Mary Bethune Office Complex meeting room for Monday night’s school board meeting resulted in Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon reversing her decision to reassign Randolph to a Halifax County Middle School assistant principal position.

School Board Chairman Kim Farson did not attend Monday night’s controversial school board meeting as she was out of the country, and Vice-Chairman R. K. “Dick” Stoneman chaired the meeting in Farson’s absence.

During the public comment portion held at the beginning of the meeting, a total of 11 concerned citizens spoke out in protest to Herndon’s decision to demote Randolph.

Randolph, who has served as the high school principal since 2000, was informed last Wednesday he had been reassigned to Halifax County Middle School to serve as assistant principal, and Michael Lewis was named interim principal at the high school.

Herndon said Tuesday morning Randolph was reinstated as principal at the high school after she received a letter of personal apology from the high school principal Monday night. 

In the letter, Randolph asked Herndon to accept his “personal apology for acting towards you in a manner that you found to be disrespectful.  I now understand that my actions caused you to make recommendations to the school board that were divisive to our community.  I pledge to work with you to heal the damage this has done.

“I agree to accept a plan of action to improve administration at the high school with particular focus on instructional leadership,” the letter continued.

“I agree to help the transition of leadership at Halifax County High School by training the assistants through Dec. 31, 2014, at which time I will take vacation through June 30, 2015.  I tender my retirement effective June 30, 2015.”

In the letter, Randolph waived his rights to confidentiality.

“I look forward to working with you in a manner that best serves the students of Halifax County, and finishing my career in a strong and positive manner,” the letter concluded.

When the reassignment was announced last week, one school board member who asked not to be identified offered an explanation for why the decision was made to transfer Randolph to the assistant principal post at the middle school.

The school board member said Superintendent Herndon had previously told the school board Randolph plans to retire after the next school year, and he has accumulated 160 vacation days. 

The school board member said Randolph either wanted to be paid for the 160 vacation days or be able to use those days.

The superintendent sought input from the board on how to handle the situation since neither board members nor the superintendent wanted to be without a principal at the high school for 160 days, the school board member stated.

However, school board members left the decision on how to handle the matter to the discretion of the superintendent.

Before reversing her decision, Herndon and members of the school board listened Monday night as person after person stated reasons the veteran principal should not have been demoted.

Hundreds turned out to support Randolph’s reinstatement as head high school principal, with 11 citizens offering multiple reasons why the demotion never should have happened. Some questioned her motives, while others chastised the superintendent for her “rash decision.” 

Mattie Cowan, a member of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, said since Herndon was hired as school superintendent two years ago, “Too many decisions and actions have kept us in the news for all the wrong reasons.” 

Cowan accused Herndon of “malevolent, seemingly vindictive and often times retaliatory behavior” and suggested her decision to demote Randolph was an “attempt to unjustly and irrationally destroy his reputation, force his retirement and humiliate him.” 

Former teacher Annie Bailey said she has been “ashamed” to be a citizen of Halifax County for the last two to three years. 

“I am surprised that we could not find a school board that has enough intelligence and guts to do what was right for our children,” said Bailey. 

Corlys Ballou, another former teacher who worked with Randolph from 2000 to 2009, praised Randolph’s devotion to his job, his church and the community and said it was “appalling” to hear of Randolph’s demotion.

Ballou also wondered aloud if it was the superintendent’s “attempt to force him into retirement. 

“It is incomprehensible to me how a man who has poured 14 years of dedication and hard work bringing the high school to full accreditation and having a graduate rate that exceeds the state average could be brought in after a rash decision lacking due process and at the discretion of one woman,” Ballou added. 

Pastor of Banister Hill Baptist Church Dr. William Carr told school board members and Herndon that Randolph’s demotion sends a negative message to the educators and students that “years of service is neither valued nor appreciated” and is “viewed as an insult by many in this community.”

Becky Donner, retired high school English teacher who worked under Randolph’s supervision, called him a “presence we could always count on” who “backed us up, praised our successes, shared the good news and found ways to make things work for the betterment of all.” 

She called Randolph’s reassignment a “travesty” and reminded the board of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The time is always right to do what is right.” 

Debbie Griles, former assistant principal and associate principal at the high school, called Randolph “the right man for Halifax County High School” and a “man of integrity.” 

After being under Randolph’s leadership for 14 years, Griles said the high school remains a “place where there is pride in the school, a record of academic, culture and athletic accomplishments.” 

The high school’s accomplishments came with his “competent knowledge of instruction, insight and sincere concern for each individual he interacted with on a daily basis,” Griles continued.

Joe Bailey, a former school board member, submitted a petition to the school board calling for the board to remove Herndon from her position as Halifax County Public School superintendent.

“If not, we the public ask for an independent investigation on the matters of this corruption that has occurred,” Bailey said.  

Following citizen comments, the school board quickly wrapped up other matters and went back behind closed doors for further discussion on the matter. 

On Tuesday morning, Herndon said Randolph will remain principal at the high school through Dec. 31, 2014 when his vacation will begin. His retirement will become effective June 30 of next year.

Last week, in addition to Randolph’s reassignment and Lewis being named high school interim principal, Vince Newton also was reassigned as an interim assistant principal at the high school.

Those reassignments also were reversed Tuesday, Herndon confirmed. 

Lewis will serve as high school associate principal, and Newton will remain at the middle school as an associate principal. 

While the board has not put a plan into action concerning who will take over leading the high school after Randolph leaves the high school to take his vacation days the latter part of the upcoming school year, Herndon said, “The board is working to ensure we have a primary leader throughout the entire school year. 

“We know we have time. We are taking one step at a time,” she added.

Herndon also said she is pleased this personnel issue has been resolved and is looking forward to working with Randolph in the coming school year.