It was with great interest that I read two articles in the Daily Union on Nov. 23 entitled, “Former employee files lawsuit against Junction City High School for wrongful termination,” and “Staff note discipline problems at Junction City High School.”

As I read the related articles, as well as some of the social media comments, it became evident that district leadership was not willing to specifically identity the real problem(s) associated with the significant change in climate at the high school. In fact, it appears that the district spokesperson, while attempting to professionally address the issue, was only making excuses to cover up decisions that had been made by her supervisor, Superintendent Dr. Reginald Eggleston and the USD 475 Board of Education.

I would add that I was surprised the Superintendent chose not to be interviewed for this article, but instead chose to send his associate superintendent to attend to this task. This seems like a standard practice for Dr. Eggleston, as I am also aware of his presence at Junction City High School on the day of the student protest last October, where he stood in a second-floor window watching his high school leadership team address the protest without any central office support.

Where is the accountability for this leader and the poor decisions he has made?

Since that incident last October, he has removed the head of security and the building principal, who collectively had more than 60 years of educational experience in the building. Add to this fact the number of total staff members who left the high school last year. Four of the five administrators have departed (collectively more than 120 years of educational experience), other members of the security team have left and to my knowledge, approximately 40 other teaching staff members turned in their retirement and/or resignation letters.

How many years of experience walked out of those high school doors last year? This data should have been presented in the article, as well as the recently hired staff and their years of experience. Those former staff members had seven months left in the school year (after the October incident) to identify the shift in climate and made the decision to remove themselves from a growing problem. It will be interesting to see just how many more staff members follow their lead this spring.

As it relates to climate in an organization, research suggests that climate is about attitude, is expected to change daily, is a state of mind, is easy to change and is simply the way “people feel” at work. And climate starts with leadership – leadership at central office and the administration at Junction City High School.

Has anyone publicly asked how the new principal at JCHS just happened to be on contract last October? What was her position prior to the protest, and how was she so easily able to step into this Interim position and then be assigned full-time? Was she qualified for the initial position, and were legal hiring practices followed to fill her position(s)? Was that position backfilled after her departure? What other viable candidates could have applied to be Principal at JCHS in the middle of a school year? (They are all under contract in other districts, as administrative contracts normally run from July-June, or August-July.) How was she available? What is her building leadership experience compared to that of her predecessor? In fact, what is the comprehensive total of administrative experience from the prior administrative team to the current team?

Here lies the facts associated with “discipline problems at Junction City High School.” There has been a game of “smoke and mirrors” in the Junction City community as it pertained to removing leadership at the high school and replacing the position with Dr. Eggleston’s former co-worker from Alabama. I anticipate that people close to the situation are unwilling to speak up for fear of retaliation. Based on the Superintendent’s reputation with employees, I understand.

In the articles, the district should have supplied data to substantiate their comments. The citizens of Junction City deserve to know the difference between the prior year’s behaviors and the current identified behaviors. Items such as behavior referrals, types of referrals, detentions, suspensions, hearings, graduation rates and test scores are just some examples. I would also suggest comparing the school’s data with other “like” schools (population, demographics, etc.) to gauge whether this is, indeed, a Junction City issue or a broader issue, as portrayed in the article.

My work experience and background is that of former director of Business Operations for USD 475. During my tenure, I worked closely with the leadership and security personnel at JCHS. We collaborated regularly on managing the high school facility via capital outlay projects, maintenance and work orders, custodial services, security cameras and student transportation. I have firsthand knowledge of their educational experience, their passion for student learning and their ability to successfully manage their job duties.

While serving USD 475, I also managed the opening of three new schools: Junction City Middle School, Spring Valley Elementary and Seitz Elementary. At no time during the opening of those schools did behaviors change for those students (actually, they were better, as students had great pride,) nor did students vandalize the new facilities. I also helped facilitate the Freshman Success Academy capital outlay project on 9th Street with the previous high school administration & staff.

Again, the high school staff at the time managed the transition to that building and did not see a spike in negative student behaviors. The common denominator in all those projects was the following: those schools had strong leadership at the helm, experienced certified/classified staff members and a group of central office personnel who were on duty to support the success of those school openings. What Junction City High School is experiencing now is the lack of leadership – both at the building level and the district level. The district made the decision to remove integral leadership positions during the most stressful educational time in history, all while opening a multi-million-dollar facility during a national pandemic.

I suggest that the district put an end to making up excuses, own up to the self-inflicted disorder they have created and help their staff and community navigate these important climate issues.

The students and staff of Geary County Schools deserve better than this.

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