The Washington Times-Herald

September 3, 2013

UPDATED: Fears fired at Otwell Elementary

By Nate Smith
The Washington Times-Herald

PETERSBURG —

PETERSBURG — The Pike County School Board fired Otwell Elementary Principal Rick Fears on Tuesday on several allegations including falsifying attendance records and not performing teacher evaluations.

Fears was fired by an unanimous vote of all five school board members during the short meeting. The principal was placed on administrative leave last month pending a review. 

The Pike County School Corporation released the findings of fact statement Wednesday that said the principal was fired for allegedly not performing teacher evaluations, falsifying attendance records and violating the student Federal Education Right to Privacy Act by releasing test results with student names.

Mark Phillips, Fears' attorney, says his client is preparing to sue the school and the board within 10 days of Tuesday's meeting. He said after the meeting he "was shocked" by the board's vote. Fears and Phillips met with the board in an executive session last week as part of his appeal process.

"We had a seven-hour hearing a week ago (Tuesday). In fact, we were done by midnight," Phillips said. "I quite frankly thought we would learn that he was going to be reinstated and begin work (Wednesday) and take off as things had not occurred because I did not hear anything in the presentation by the school corporation suggesting he should be terminated and his contract be cancelled."

Fears declined comment after the meeting. Members of the board declined comment after the meeting but board President Jerry Grubb said a findings of fact statement would be made public at the school's central office in Petersburg on Wednesday.

In the findings of fact document, it says Fears made late evaluations of teachers or not even at all. The document said Superintendent Suzanne Blake met with Fears on April 24 and found many evaluations were not completed. The findings also say the former principal did not begin classroom evaluations until later in the year and the document also said the principal used unsubstantiated and incorrect data in making those evaluations.

The document said teachers at Otwell "were concerned" about the evaluations. Starting last year, teacher statewide were evaluated with the RISE Program and evaluations and pay are tied to teacher performance.

In 2010, the findings of fact document says, Fears allegedly requested a secretary to alter and falsify attendance records of 15 students, changing them from absent to present. The secretary, who was not named, refused, and the document said Fears altered the records himself.

Fears also allegedly, the document said, asked the secretary to mark specific students as "withdrawn," in attendance records and later classify the student as "newly enrolled" when the student returned. The change in the records would look better for the school, the document said.

Also included in the findings of fact document was the release of the state's IRead 3 test results before they were allowed to be released. It also said Fears publicized test results with student names.

Phillips said Tuesday they are prepared to go to court to defend Fears' work while at Otwell. 

"I think there will be an opportunity for people to see there was a dual standard in this corporation and certain administrators are treated differently from others," Phillips said. "Obviously when we file suit, there will be references to what was said and done that were just flat-out untrue."

Teachers, many wearing blue to represent Otwell Elementary, were in attendance Tuesday. Fears spoke to many of them after the meeting, but the teachers and staff members did not want to comment publicly. One male in attendance told board members after the meeting "you guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

Last month, the board named Jim Isaacs as interim principal at the school. Otwell Elementary was one of the best elementary schools in the state while Fears was principal, earning state Four-Star School status in three of the past four years. The school was also named a Blue-Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education in 2011.