Thursday, March 30, 2006
Gentry, city school district reach settlement
By SUE WATSON
A due process hearing set for former superintendent of education Dr. Cynthia Gentry Thursday never got underway as attorneys for the Holly Springs School Board and Gentry worked out a settlement behind closed doors.
Gentry’s attorney, Alex Sanders of Greenwood, announced the parties had reached an agreement around 10:30 a.m. after about 20 interested community members awaited the hearing that was set to start at 9 a.m.
“This matter has been settled,” Sanders said, providing few details of the agreement which he said would not be official until drafted and signed.
All parties to the settlement have agreed to keep details confidential, he said.
Sanders provided a brief statement from Gentry for the record.
“Dr. Gentry wants to announce she is going to resign from the system here with an admirable settlement,” he said, “and in the interest of the boys and girls of the district this matter will be concluded.’ ”
Sanders said both parties, Gentry and the school district, made concessions.
“Like any settlement, there is some give and take on both ends,” he said.
Sanders said the details of the agreement would be spelled out in writing later and kept confidential.
School board attorney Tom Freeland seemed pleased to get the matter over with.
“It’s resolved and the school gets to go back to educating,” Freeland said.
Sanders also appeared pleased with the settlement.
“I believe it is an equitable agreement,” he said.
Several interested citizens present at the meeting said they attended with hope of learning more details regarding the school board’s suspension of Gentry earlier this year.
“My personal reason is I wanted to hear the reasoning the board was giving for the dismissal of Gentry in middle of the year,” said W.A. McMillan. “I thought the citizens wanted to know why the dismissal took place in the middle of the year. I also thought the school board should have been there. Some citizens wanted to know the details but couldn’t be there.”
He said some citizens present wanted to hear both sides so they could “make an intelligent decision. We had a good representative group from church pastors, the hospital, Rust College - people from different segments (of the community).”
McMillan said he is unsure whether the compromise was better than the hearing; that he wanted to hear the details.
“Maybe this will be the best way out, but that’s why I went, to hear more,” he said.
Willie Jeffries, pastor of Strawberry MB Church, expressed concern and surprise at Gentry’s suspension.
“I was there because I thought Dr. Gentry was doing a good job,” he said. “I did not see any reason why they terminated her (employment). I thought she was getting a raw deal.”
Jeffries also thought school board trustees should have been at the hearing.
“I do not think the school board should have to make judgements based on transcripts,” he said.
Jeffries said he was impressed with the reading program Gentry had implemented in the schools.
“We don’t know why she was suspended,” he said. “We thought she was doing a good job. They even had a forum at the Multi-Purpose Building where some board members were saying she was doing a good job.”
School Board president Michael Crittle said Friday he is very pleased with the settlement between Gentry and the school district.
“The school board chose not to attend the hearing,” Crittle said, “the reason being, if something came out of the hearing and we were there, how can we make a decision on something we’ve been influenced on?”
He said the board looks forward to working with interim superintendent Irene Walton.
“The board at this point is satisfied with the progress and adaptation under Mrs. Walton and the way she gets the staff to follow her,” Crittle said.
“She is data driven and understands the data and can break it down. She can train teachers very quickly and has trained teachers. We are fortunate. That is one of the most impressive things I have seen with Mrs. Walton.”
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