CURRITUCK —The Currituck Board of Education declined Thursday to reconsider its controversial decision not to renew Currituck County High School Principal Brian Matney’s contract.
Board member Will Crodick made a motion to add renewal of Matney’s contract to the board’s regular meeting agenda. The motion failed, however, with only Crodick and board member Janet Rose supporting it.
Voting against adding the item to the board’s agenda were Chairwoman Karen Etheridge and members Dwan Craft and Bill Dobney.
The vote was similar to the board’s initial vote not to renew Matney’s contract earlier this month.
The board extended the public comment period at Thursday’s meeting from the usual 30 minutes to 90 minutes and heard from 21 speakers in support of extending Matney’s contract. Only one speaker supported the board’s decision not to renew the principal’s contract.
Matney has worked as principal at the high school for the past two school years. Superintendent Mark Stefanik, who has since left the district for a post in Ohio, recommended that Matney’s contract not be renewed. The board upheld that recommendation on a 3-2 vote at a meeting June 5.
Matney on Friday expressed appreciation for the public outpouring of support for renewing his contract.
“I’m overwhelmed by the sentiments expressed by teachers, parents, and most of all my students,” Matney said. “As an educator, it is my privilege to serve such standout young people, dedicated professionals and caring adults.”
The contingent in support of Matney included teachers, students and parents. It also included two elected officials: Crodick and Currituck Commissioner Paul Beaumont.
After Crodick made the motion to amend the meeting agenda to consider renewing Matney’s contract, Etheridge told the audience the board’s decision not to renew was not taken lightly and was based on facts.
“We’re hearing one side, guys,” Etheridge said.
Etheridge then read a note she said was from a 2006 Currituck High School graduate who thanked the board for its decision. The note writer mentioned hearing concerns from trusted teachers and staff about struggles at the high school, and in particular struggles related to Matney.
“And they were all the same concerns,” Etheridge said, quoting the note.
Crodick responded that he had received more than 53 letters in support of Matney. When Etheridge said all board members had received those letters, Crodick asked that she not interrupt him — beginning a tense exchange between the two.
“Can I have my turn please?” Crodick asked.
As he prepared to read an anonymous letter that he said was the basis for the investigation into Matney’s leadership as principal, Etheridge and the board’s attorney said the letter should not be read because it pertained to the board’s closed-door discussion of a confidential personnel matter.
Crodick disagreed, saying “this is a letter that I received in the mail and it’s a public document.” He also noted Etheridge had read a note but had not identified the author by name.
“Charge me with the Class 3 misdemeanor,” Crodick said as Etheridge told him he was out of order. “You’re not going to muzzle me.”
Referring to the letter Etheridge read, Crodick described it as “an anonymous letter with subjective accusations that are not corroborated.”
He said he wanted to read the letter that led to the Matney probe because “a handful of complainers that won’t put their name to anything” had launched a process that he said ruined Matney’s career and life, ruined students’ lives and put the county in turmoil.
Crodick said he thought the board’s decision to move forward with non-renewal based on an anonymous letter was unfair to the public.
“Do it to the people again,” Crodick said. “Just do it to them. Screw them. Live the lie if you want to.”
“You know what? You’re grandstanding,” Etheridge told Crodick.
“Yes, ma’am, and I’m telling the truth,” he replied.
The non-renewal of Matney’s contract was all about “nepotism and friendship,” Crodick said.
One of those who addressed the board in support of Matney at Thursday’s meeting was Sydney MacDonald, president of the Currituck County High School Class of 2020.
“He was not just an everyday principal for us,” she said. “He became a friend.”
Dana Parker said Matney had increased test scores and made progress toward the high school becoming accredited.
Parker said people who actually support Matney were presented to the school board as being opposed to him.
“This goes to the very validity of the investigation,” Parker said.
Mark Wootton, auto technology teacher at the high school for 24 years, was the only speaker at the meeting who supported the decision not to renew Matney’s contract. He said every principal had supported the auto tech program, until Matney.
“I guess there just weren’t enough advance placement students to warrant his attention,” Wootton said.
Kilani Richardson, a student who started a petition in support of Matney, said “there’s a complete difference in the school because of him.”
Zachary Dearman said Matney had helped him take on the mantle of a teacher.
“I find myself questioning whether I can carry on,” he said, adding he’s not sure he wants to continue working for a school district that treats its best principal by getting rid of him.
It has been his great privilege to be mentored by Matney and work with him, Dearman said.
Mary Suman said she believes the school board and public were failed by a superintendent who made a serious personnel decision after announcing plans to leave.
Robert Griffin, chairman of the CCHS Mathematics Department, said Matney sees great potential at the school and always has students at the forefront of his thinking.
Anita Rubino said she’s a 19-year teacher, a parent and a community member who feels compelled to take a stand for what is right.
“I know Dr. Matney is right for Currituck County High School,” Rubino said.
Everyone has a voice and every voice was valued at the high school under Matney’s leadership, she said. Rubino said she wants her own children to benefit from strong career and technical education programs and academic rigor.
Mia Baker-Spruill said Matney is the only principal who has gotten her name right consistently. She said that Matney acted on her behalf when she experienced racial oppression. Her heart is broken, she said.
Beaumont said he has spoken with students, teachers, parents and administrators at the high school and they have had only positive things to say about Matney.
The commissioner said he has no faith in Stefanik’s recommendation for non-renewal because he’s not impressed with the former superintendent’s analysis on other matters. Beaumont also said that Matney should have found out before April if there was an issue with his performance.
Crodick revisited the issue at the end of the meeting.
“I’m pretty sad with the way this whole process with Dr. Matney, and probably many others, went down,” Crodick said.
He said he doesn’t believe the board should act on anonymous complaints.
“I think it’s just bad business,” Crodick said.
Matthew Lutz, who the school board tapped to serve as interim superintendent, said he appreciated the board’s faith in him.
“This was a tough meeting tonight,” Lutz said. “We have to start healing and we have to start moving forward. This was tough and these are difficult times.”