Currituck board OKs CCHS principal in split vote
By Reggie Ponder
Friday, August 10, 2018
CURRITUCK — The Currituck Board of Education has signed off on Superintendent Mark Stefanik’s choice for principal at Currituck County High School — but only after a split vote.
The board voted 3-2 this week to hire veteran school administrator Brian Matney for the principal’s job at CCHS. Voting for Matney’s appointment were school board members William Crodick, Janet Rose and Karen Etheridge. Voting against Matney’s hiring were board Chairman William Dobney and member Dwan Craft.
Despite the board’s divided opinion on Matney, Stefanik said Thursday he has enormous confidence in his new leader at the high school. He said Matney brings significant strengths to the role of principal at the high school.
“His strengths are very evident,” Stefanik said. “He has many years of experience as a principal and he has a lot of innovative ideas.”
Stefanik said Matney has received numerous awards for his work as a principal and a record of improving student achievement in schools where he has served.
Matney, who has more than 25 years as a school administrator, comes to Currituck from the Mecklenburg County Schools in Virginia, where he had served as director of secondary education since earlier this year.
Matney, who is already working at the high school, said Wednesday he’s not concerned about the board’s split vote on his hiring. He said he’s had a warm reception since arriving in Currituck. He also said he’s received enormous support from teachers, staff and the community since his arrival. He said he’s excited about the upcoming school year which begins later this month.
Matney said he expects this year will mainly be one of listening and learning for him as he looks to see what is working well and what might be improved. He said he especially wants to look at scheduling and how it can be fine-tuned for optimal achievement.
“We will be looking at some innovative ways of scheduling classes,” Matney said.
In particular, he said, he would like to look for ways to ensure students get instruction every day in core areas of math and English.
Rose, who voted with the board majority in favor of Matney’s appointment, said he brings an impressive resume to Currituck.
“He has seen schools go through the accreditation process,” she said, adding that’s something the board would like to see happen at Currituck County High School.
Matney also got an excellent recommendation from his most recent employer, the Mecklenburg County Public Schools in South Hill, Va., Rose said.
“I’m looking forward to working with him,” she said.
Rose also said she has met Matney and already seen him interact with students at the high school.
“I’m very impressed with what I am seeing so far and I’m looking forward to a great school year,” she said.
Crodick, who also voted to approve Matney’s hiring, called him the right leader for Currituck County High School at this time.
“He is a leader. We need a leader and that is exactly what he is,” Crodick said.
During his time working in Virginia, Matney served on Virginia’s Standards of Learning Innovation Committee, was Virginia’s Principal of the Year in 2006 and started a Governor’s STEM Academy while he was principal of Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, Va.
It was Matney’s tenure at Landstown High School that apparently led to the split vote by Currituck school board members on Monday. While principal at Landstown, Matney was reassigned by Virginia Beach Public Schools Superintendent Aaron C. Spence to a central office administrative post.
In a May 11, 2016, letter Spence addressed to families of Landstown High School students, the superintendent said he reassigned Matney to a program evaluation specialist job in the district’s Office of Research and Evaluation following an investigation into Matney’s leadership at the school.
Virginia Beach school officials said in a statement to media at the time that the investigation centered on Matney’s job performance but was not disciplinary in nature.
“In total, more than 100 staff members at Landstown High School voluntarily came forward to be interviewed during the investigation,” Spence said in the letter. “Some had positive comments about his leadership while others raised numerous concerns about the work environment, interactions with staff, school climate, safety and security and student discipline matters.”
According to a Virginian-Pilot report, more than 1,500 signatures were collected on a petition in favor of keeping Matney at Landstown.
Spence said in the letter: “I met personally with Dr. Matney and shared with him that while I understood there were positive comments and I had reviewed his previous evaluations, I was unable to reconcile those comments with his behaviors detailed in the employee statements.”
Dobney, who voted against Matney’s hiring, noted that as a retired school superintendent himself, it’s not typical to reassign a principal before the end of the school year over a minor matter. He pointed out that Matney was reassigned from his principal’s job five weeks before the end of a school year. Dobney also noted that superintendents also don’t typically conduct investigations involving interviews with more than 100 people over small matters.
“Those were the red flags for me,” Dobney said.
Dobney said the fact Matney wasn’t the first choice of the Currituck district’s teacher committee to be the new principal at CCHS also was a factor in his vote.
“I place a lot of value on what our teachers say,” Dobney said.
Asked about his reassignment when he served as principal at Landstown High School, Matney said he would refer all questions on the subject to Stefanik.
Stefanik said he would not comment directly on the Landstown situation because it involves a personnel decision in another school district. But in general, he noted the Currituck schools check all applicants’ references and conduct thorough background checks, and all information obtained is taken into account when making hiring decisions.
“People can have varying opinions about candidates,” Stefanik said of the board’s split vote on hiring Matney.
Rose noted Matney had extensive parent support at Landstown, pointing out some 1,800 citizens signed a petition to reinstate him as principal there. She also noted his long record before becoming principal at Landstown.
“He was a principal for a very long time in Virginia Beach before Landstown,” Rose said.
For his part, Crodick was critical of Dobney’s opposition to Matney. He noted that Dobney has served as both school superintendent and school board chairman in Currituck, and during that time student performance at Currituck High School has fallen.
“Bill Dobney has had his hand in the game for a long time and has not been able to right the ship,” Crodick said. “So we’re trying to right the ship and we have a lot of faith in this guy. ... We’re trying to bring somebody in to right the ship, so to speak.”
Dobney said that now that the board has voted he will work with Matney.
“I will work with him because we’re still all in it for the students of Currituck,” Dobney said.
Matney succeeds Juvanda Crutch, who was interim principal at Currituck County High School before being tapped as principal at Pasquotank County High School last month.