The Williford Schools in the Twin Rivers School District has had more than their fair share of bumps in the road over the last few years. The small Sharp County school has been the topic of many rumors, as well as accreditation-probationary action by the State Board of Education regarding infractions that need to be addressed. Both the radio and television media have aired reports about the incidents, but Twin Rivers School Board member Kenny Ladd said in an interview, "This is the first time anyone has asked any of us about these issues."
The issues currently related to the school began with the consolidation of administration with the Oak Ridge Central school which created the Twin Rivers School District. In addition, Barbara Wess, a faculty member was charged with embezzling money from the district and was terminated. This occurred under the administration of Roy Causbie, who was then superintendent.
The school's attorney, Donn Mixon, said they will be prosecuting Wess for the embezzlement.
Causbie now works for Standards Assurance for the State Department of Education.
Superintendent David Gilliland said while Causbie was superintendent, his wife served as elementary school principal at the Williford campus. When the schools consolidated having two principals at the campus wasn't in the budget. He said she was asked to be the K-12 principal. Gilliland said she would have to become certified, and he said they would have given her time to obtain this certification. He said she refused to do this and told him she wasn't going to go back to school for anyone. As a result of her refusal, her job was replaced. Following a grievance hearing, Gilliland and Ladd said Causbie then wanted her job back, but the position had already been filled.
Some board members feel that a lot of the issues facing the school district have stemmed from hard feelings from the prior administration.
Several parents of students say they feel as if they have been left in the dark in regard to the future of the school. Rumors have circulated regarding everything from a state takeover to closing the school. Enrollment has continued to drop and rumors have continued to fly.
For this reason, Twin Rivers School Board members Kenny Ladd and President Charlie Tyler along with the superintendent Gilliland want to enlighten the public on the plight of the school and its future and hopefully, eliminate some of the doubt the public has about the stability of the school system.
School Board President Charlie Tyler also spoke with the Villager Journal and explained that at the state meeting, Dec. 14, the basis for the latest round of rumors, the district asked the state for help in overcoming some of the problems it faces.
Julie Thompson with the State Board of Education, said the board sent a team to the Williford Campus to go over the problems and show the superintendent and principal ways to address and repair the issues to help remove the school from the accredited probationary status.
The team was at the school during the week of Jan. 4-8, assisting educators with these issues. When Gilliland went to Little Rock for the meeting, he was only aware of a few issues, one which had already been corrected and was related to a clerical error. When he arrived, Gilliland said the state board presented several others, somewhich could be corrected soon. Many of the issues were not on the Williford campus but on the Oak Ridge campus and are currently being addressed, he said.
The report says that the during the 2008-2009 school year, Twin Rivers School District employed a person at the elementary school and high school who did not have an administrator's license in a position that required one. Another, did not have a teacher's license in a position requiring one. In addition, the district was cited with not having out-of-area waivers for seven staff members to work in areas other than that of their educational speciality. Two of these were at the elementary school and five at the high school during the 2008-2009 school year. In addition, the report states that the school assigned a person at both the elementary and high school with expired licenses. By the Oct. 15, 2009, deadline, the report says the state board had not received evidence that the 2008-2009 violations had been corrected.
Tyler said as far as he knows these are things that have been corrected, and explained that a librarian wasn't qualified but to his knowledge this had been corrected. He said a lot of the issues may be on the Oak Ridge Campus and were not supposed to be brought up until next year, giving the school district time to work to correct the issue.
Another school board member, Robert Woshlogger, said "All the teachers at the Williford school have the correct licenses."
The board also commented on the Sept. 23, 2009, Priority Preliminary Probationary Visit where the Standard Assurance Unit learned that for 2009-2010 school year students were not enrolled in the 38 required study units and again brought up that teachers are still teaching out of area without waivers.
The board's actions could be a wide variety of alternatives, but, a representative of the State Board of Education said, they first try to help the school correct any issues before ever going further with other options.
Gilliland said some of the issues were paperwork related and have been corrected. The team also helped the administrators with things that can be fixed and will be very soon.
During the Dec. 14 State Board Meeting in Little Rock, it was discovered that the school had not corrected items for which it was initially put on probation for in May 2008 and again in May 2009.
The board would like the public to know that they are doing everything in their power to correct the issues by enlisting the help of the state with their recommendations and assures the public they are seeking all resources available to restore the Williford school's reputation and provide the quality education that has been a goal of the district since it's beginning.
Gilliland said, he is there to help and would never do anything to hurt his district.
The state will offer it's recommendations at a Jan.19 meeting in Little Rock. Gilliland said he will attend.