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Relay Elementary parents continue effort to remove principal

Members of the Board of Education held a meeting August 4 during which a group of Relay Elementary School parents reiterated their concerns regarding the school's leadership.
Members of the Board of Education held a meeting August 4 during which a group of Relay Elementary School parents reiterated their concerns regarding the school's leadership. (Staff photo by Heather Norris)

A group of Relay Elementary School parents traveled north to Towson to attend Tuesday evening's meeting of the Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education to again express concerns regarding their school's administration.

Their attendance, for the second time in a month, followed the distribution of a letter late last month from county schools Chief Academic Officer Verletta White outlining steps to address the concerns the parents had brought forward at a July 14 board meeting and in other forms of communication with schools personnel.

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Since July, some Relay Elementary parents have been calling for the removal of the principal, Lisa Dingle, citing concerns over the loss of a dozen teachers at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, an increase in behavior incidents and what parents have described as safety issues and communication issues at the school. Dingle has been the head of the school for three years.

At a July 8 open meeting for Relay parents and community members, many people said they were worried the school's status as one of the more high-achieving schools in the area could be at stake.

White's letter, parents said at Tuesday's board meeting, did little to soothe their frustration with Dingle.

The steps also placed an unnecessary amount of responsibility on the school's teachers, many of whom the parents said they have been in communication with, they said.

"We appreciate the Chief Academic Officer Verletta White's interest in our school," said Heather Mix in a three-minute address to the board during the public comment period. But, she continued, "the steps outlined in this plan are not what Relay needs."

In the letter to the Relay community, White said the school system would closely monitor student behavior and reevaluate the school's current policies on dealing with incidents, host more discussions with staff concerning faculty morale and form a Parent Advisory Board to meet quarterly with Dingle and the school's assigned assistant superintendent, Jane Lichter, among other things.

Though parents had called for Dingle's removal at a July 8 community meeting, , the schools administration said it would not remove Dingle.

Despite the stated plans to increase communication between parents, teachers and administration and school system promises to more closely monitor the situation, Mix told the school board that many parents don't believe anything will change.

Both school system officials who will head the monitoring of the school, Lichter and White, she said, have been aware of the situation for a long time and have not resolved the situation, she said..

Another parent who attended the meeting, Heather Agler, read a statement to the board prepared by a former teacher at the school describing a lack of communication and support between staff and school administration. In the letter, the teacher described being assigned to teach three different grades in two-and-a-half years at the school with little to no support or guidance from administrators.

A third parent, Scott Gierasch, said White's letter carried the same dismissiveness that parents have voiced frustration over for months.

During the July 8 meeting, he noted, Lichter and Dingle told parents the school had lost only three classroom teachers at the end of the 2014-2015 school year then went on to tell meeting attendees that more than a dozen staff members had left at the end of the school year. White's letter described the loss as "11.7 positions (includes speech language pathologist, ESOL teacher, instrumental, vocal music, and art teacher) and 1.0 paraeducator."

"Positions didn't leave Relay," Gierasch told the board. "People left Relay."

"We don't believe [our kids] are getting the best that BCPS has to offer," he said.

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School board member-at-large Michael Collins addressed the board and meeting attendees after the public comment period had ended.

Although the decision of who serves as principal at a school is largely up to Superintendent Dallas Dance and his administration, Collins said the board, along with Dance, must acknowledge that something more needs to change.

"It is alarmingly clear that Relay is broken," he said. "It is alarmingly clear that the principal cannot fix it."

While he said he does not know Dingle personally and, in all likelihood, voted to approve her appointment to Relay Elementary three years ago, he suggested to the school officials present that the only way to handle the situation is to find Dingle a different school where she may be a better fit.

"I think that that principal should be replaced and assigned somewhere she can be successful," he said.

"I think three years is long enough," he said. "If you can't get it together in three years, try someplace else."

As part of their most recent appeal to the school system, the three Relay parents who attended the meeting brought with them packets for board members detailing their specific concerns regarding Dingle's leadership.

As part of their research, they said, they discovered that Dingle had also been the subject of similar complaints at Winfield Elementary School in Windsor Mill, where she spent five years as principal before landing in Relay.

A representative of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County confirmed to the Arbutus Times that there were multiple complaints during Dingle's tenure at Winfield, though nothing to the magnitude of the Relay situation.

Superintendent Dance said at the board meeting that he has plans to meet with members of Relay Elementary's PTA.

School board member Nicholas Stewart, who represents the southwestern Baltimore County area and was in attendance at the July 8 meeting before taking his seat on the board, said after the August 4 meeting that the situation at Relay has been something the board and the administration have been watching closely. During the meeting, he urged school leaders to read through the packet of information the parents gave them earlier in the evening.

Although he expressed doubts about whether the principal would be removed so closely to the start of the school year, he said the board of well aware of the parents' frustration and he believes a change in leadership is necessary at Relay.

"It's on [our] radar," he said.

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