ASHLAND -- Following a two-hour closed session special meeting on Thursday, the Hanover County School Board voted 5-1 to remove Beth Smith from her position as principal at Patrick Henry High School (PHHS).
Sue Dibble abstained and Ola Hawkins was not present at the meeting due to a death in her family.
Officials were tight-lipped regarding the decision following the closed session, but took the vote to accept the recommended action in public.
The decision comes days after an 11-hour marathon session earlier in the week where a number of witnesses were called by both sides in the case. As midnight approached on Tuesday night, board members announced no decision had been reached.
Smith served as PHHS principal for two years, but, according to reports, was not offered a contract for the upcoming year.
State and local code prevents school system officials from discussing personnel issues, or providing details of specific cases.
Due to the immense interest in this case, Hanover County Public Schools issued a statement addressed to Patrick Henry families, faculty and staff following the decision just after 9 p.m. Thursday.
“We are writing to inform you that Beth Smith is no longer employed by Hanover County Public Schools (HCPS) and will no longer serve as the principal of Patrick Henry High School (PHHS),” the email stated.
Several speakers spoke in favor of retaining Smith at last month’s school board meeting, and many comments, both positive and negative, regarding her tenure have been received at the central office in Ashland.
Other parents and stakeholders had expressed concern that the system was not keeping parents and students informed of the decision. The letter, signed by superintendent Michael Gill and school board chair Bob Hundley, addressed that very issue.
“We understand that this news may be concerning, but we wanted to communicate with you as soon as we were permitted to do so by policy to help eliminate any further uncertainty in the community about her role and the future of PHHS.”
The lack of public information regarding the action also also addressed in the letter.
“Regrettably, this has caused a lot of speculation, misinformation, and frustration in the community. Nevertheless, we want to assure you that we make decisions based upon facts, policy, and, most importantly, what we believe is in the best interest of students.”
The search for an interim principal begins immediately, and filling that position temporarily allows officials time to conduct a comprehensive search for a replacement.
“In the meantime, we will work as quickly as possible to identify and hire a well-qualified and experienced interim principal before the start of the upcoming school year. This will allow us the necessary time to conduct a thorough search for a permanent principal.”
That process will involve the input of stakeholders, parents and students.
“During this process, there will be several opportunities for you to provide input on the qualities and characteristics you want us to consider in a new principal. We are committed to hiring the best candidate, and we genuinely encourage, want, and need your participation as we move forward.”
Officials assured parents and students that the upcoming school opening will not be affected by the change in leadership.
“As the new school year approaches, we want to reassure you that school board office administration and staff will continue to provide strong and direct support to PHHS administration, faculty, and staff to help ensure a successful start. Without question, our primary focus will be on helping every student maximize his or her potential and succeed by providing them with exceptional instruction in a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment,” the email concluded.