Norton School Board is on its way toward undoing a policy that prohibits administrators from also being head coaches.
With a new majority now in control, the board voted 3-2 on first reading at its May meeting to retire the policy that, when adopted in February 2018, affected just one person — high school principal and head basketball coach Aaron Williams.
Williams opted to coach, was reassigned to teach at the elementary school and has since left the division. Now, Norton is on the hunt for a basketball coach. Burton High School Principal Mike Goforth is an experienced basketball coach but couldn't coach under the existing policy.
Retiring the policy will be on the board's agenda for a second and final reading at its meeting next week, June 10.
Wes Campbell, who stood against the policy as a citizen when it was adopted and then was elected to the board later that year, asked that the policy be put back on the agenda, he said in a recent email.
Campbell, Chair Cody McElroy and member Carol Caruso voted in favor of ending the policy while members Sherry Adams and Mark Leonard, chair and vice chair when it was adopted, were opposed to the change.
All board members were asked to elaborate on their positions as was Superintendent Gina Wohlford, who endorsed the change a year ago and has not changed her view.
"If this policy is retired," Wohlford said in an email, "I asked for the board to consider a means to ensure that, if any of the positions mentioned in the policy were to hold a head coaching position, that during that particular season, there be additional staff hired, as needed, to ensure that with any of these roles we do not hinder the success of the operations of our division or the academics and culture of our schools."
Wohlford said she told the board she believed "this policy to be a strong policy, as I value the roles of the district level administration and school principal positions as intricate pieces of the academic success, culture created, and for the need of this division to have operational oversight at the highest level."
Campbell, McElroy and Caruso, who was the lone vote against the policy last year, all said in emails they believe the policy is unnecessary and too restrictive for Norton's small school system.
"In a school division our size, we need the latitude to allow administrators to play dual roles if the circumstances dictate," Caruso said, adding that she believed a year ago and still does that Williams himself was the real issue.
"I believe he was the focus of that policy because we never needed a policy to prevent an administrator from coaching," Caruso said, adding that the board votes on the recommended coaching list each year. "We, as a board, can make a decision at that point, without a policy that could tie our hands. Our administrators have in the past and continue to wear many hats within our school division."
Campbell said Norton is very fortunate "to have always had teachers and administrators who were driven and gracious enough to fill multiple roles to ensure that our students had the best opportunities to succeed. I do not believe that utilizing the strengths of our staff would be problematic as long as we provide the support they need."
As he views it, Campbell said, the policy "only limits our flexibility to place everyone in the best position possible."
McElroy said he would argue that one reason for the success of city schools and the city itself "is the fact that most everyone wears multiple hats and does so willingly."
Noting that board members also have full-time jobs and juggle dual roles, he also said, "I don't think it is unreasonable for those willing to do so in our division to have the opportunity if the fit is good." Having the best-suited personnel in each position promotes the success of both student and employee, he said.
McElroy also said the matter is not a policy issue for the board but a personnel matter for administration. The superintendent can make recommendations and then the board approves or denies based upon the information presented, he said.
Adams did not waiver in her support for the policy, nor did Leonard.
"The responsibilities of a head coach and of a principal are just too much to effectively do both jobs," Leonard said in a phone interview. "We're just not doing the kids justice by having one person doing both jobs."
He admitted to being surprised and disappointed when retiring the policy landed on the board's agenda for action without prior public discussion.
Adams said she read from a prepared statement at the meeting, which pointed to the previous board's focus on educational excellence "from the highest level to the last rung on the ladder.
"One of the greatest deficits we experienced was at the management level in our high school due to the assignment of other duties to the building principal. We saw issues with teacher morale, student discipline, parent satisfaction and even safety concerns due to this administrative overburdening.
"For that reason, the policy we are discussing was put in place to essentially save ourselves from falling back into the temptation to go down this same road again. Yet here we are."
Adams said the policy resulted in changes in "academic strength and momentum that can be seen less than one year from its inception. Why would we choose to sacrifice academic excellence for the sole purpose of filling an athletic position?"
Adams said the move to retire the policy reverses board priorities. "Our top priority is the education of our students," she said. "We try to give the best experience possible to our student athletes but we can NEVER let that be our primary focus or concern."