Almost a hundred parents and students packed into the high school library for a board meeting April 15th that determined the fate of band director Justin Hennig. Parents told stories of children who had been inspired by their band leader. Kids said they felt the band was the thing that made the day tolerable, and were devastated by the loss of their teacher, many of them struggling to hold back tears. After a 50 minute private executive meeting the board members returned to the library and voted unanimously to accept the resignation.
Nobody was happy
The parents who were in favor of keeping Hennig all spoke highly of his enthusiasm and ability to inspire the students. They struggled to understand how a teacher who could fill the room with supporters would be leaving after one year, before a fair trial of his skills could be completed.
One woman said, “We can’t believe Justin is leaving by his own choice, not one word has been said against him among the people I know. Either he did something very bad and the board is not talking about it, or the board was influenced by some powerful parents who he rubbed the wrong way, and now is the board is not talking because they don’t want to admit they were wrong. No matter which of the two reasons is true, we should expect more transparency from this board.”
A man said, “There is real damage done to the school by the board not explaining its actions. The band program will be hurt for years. What kind of replacement director can we expect to attract now, if one as good as Hennig is treated this badly?
Students talked about how they were inspired by Hennig’s classes, and gave tearful pleas for him to be allowed to stay. Some said that with their band director leaving like this they would quit the band in protest.
A couple of lickspittles were defending the board and told us we should trust them to make the right decision.
Read the tells
Although the board was tight-lipped the entire evening, there were some tells that you could read from the mannerisms of the board members.
Jesse Truett was clearly getting impatient with the parents when the public comments went past an hour. Scowling down at the table with his arms crossed, he was tired of listening. Debbie Brannan was spacing out, and was so uncomfortable she had to fan herself.
Stephanie Evans and Adam Miller remained attentive and reacted to the points the speakers made.
Although I was not impressed with the job president Grant Douglass has done in the past, he did seem to be giving a fair chance for everyone at the meeting to talk, and kept a smile, or at least a neutral face, as he listen to the parents and kids.
Douglass called the board into executive session in order to discuss the employment of Hennig. They left the room at 8:50 PM, with a plea by Douglass for the remains of the crowd to wait for the results, which “shouldn’t take long”. The board was gone for almost 50 minutes – a clear indication there was some impassioned pleas being made in the school office by board members who didn’t want Hennig to leave like this.
If it were only one board member who was trying to convince the others, the executive session would have been short. I’m guessing that Miller and Evans were trying to find a way to work some agreement from the others to change their minds.
I can almost hear the reply from Truett, he probably said “we can’t let a mob push us into backing down, or we will have a new mob at every meeting”. Brannan looked at Douglass and sat in silence.
That left Douglass as the deciding vote. He might have pasted on a smile for the parents who were speaking, but he knows there is a small group of parents who have the ability to take away his board seat, and there is not much up side to defying them.
Some true things
Superintendant O’Reilly will be leaving the school this summer, so he was the designated bad news guy. He said that Hennig had resigned, and had requested that the board not reveal the details. O’Reilly claimed that Hennig was the one to speak about the real reasons for his resignation, not the board. That’s a convenient excuse, but one that the board would have broken instantly if the reason for asking Hennig to leave would have been serious.
A man who claimed to be Hennig’s close friend said that the representative from the teacher’s union told Hennig to keep the details of his employment problems to himself. He said the band director would take back the resignation if the board offered him another contract.
A woman said that the reason that was given to Hennig for his failure to get a contract was a simple “you don’t fit in here”. I didn’t see anyone on the board acting at all surprised or upset at that statement.
Elections have consequences
Throughout the evening I saw parents struggle with the concept that a small group of politically powerful people could have booted Hennig. Do you have any other explanation for what happened that would fit the facts?
This city sat passively as one of the worse possible board candidates, a man who had been forced to give up his teaching license, was elected to the board. It elected a woman who is a complete void on holding any opinion, and is proud of it. You get what you voted for, Grandview. If you don’t like the way it is working, get organized, make changes happen at the ballot box.
Read Post resignation Investigation for more on the Hennig affair. The comment by someone with the handle “AngryGHHSBand Parent” is required reading, I don’t know if all of that is true, but it sounds legit.
There is no reason why the removal of the band director had to be a secret, no reason for the lying from Douglass and Brannan. Other than they are poor board members who don’t deserve to be in office. Anyone who defends them is a suckup who is enabling the continuation of a poor school board, which will result in a worsening school.