By Alex Haglund
Following the publication of the “Volleyball” column by Nashville Community High School Superintendent Ernie Fowler and the ensuing fallout from it, the NCHS board called a special meeting which was held at starting at 6 p.m. on the evening of Wednesday, September 6.
Along with the members of the board (all members were present except for John Hallock), there were numerous NCHS faculty members present at the meeting, as well as a handful of members of the community.
The only item on the agenda was a closed session, and board president Shawn Cook told those present that due to it being a special meeting, the board would not be able to take any action or make a vote until a regular meeting (The next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, September 18). The special meeting was called because without an official meeting, the board is prohibited by the open meetings act from even discussing the matter as a group.
Cook also states that there would be no statements made by the board on their return to open session.
Before entering into closed session, Marsha Gajewski, a former member of the board, and a member of the board when Fowler was hired issued a statement.
Statement In Support Of Fowler
“We chose Ernie Fowler,” said Gajewski. “Ernie told his very entertaining volleyball story at his initial interview.”
She added that, “no board member was offended by his story, and believe me, the written story was not nearly as amusing or as colorful as the in-person account.”
Gajewski spoke in support of Fowler, both in general, and in light of this column. Gajewski praised his transparency as an administrator. She said that Fowler’s recommendation for a Reduction In Force that ended with teacher Bethany McQuiston being laid off was not a decision taken lightly and was done, “when our backs were against the wall with the budget and deficit.”
Gajewski said that Fowler had made mistakes, but as far as the column, stated, “I did not find the reference to a 15-year-old boy’s fantasy disrespectful, despicable or dirty. I found it truthful and candid.”
Gajewski then stated that she had read “Volleyball” to her grandsons, age 12 and 14, which drew laughs and gasps from others present. She stated that they laughed and said, “that’s what they would do.”
Gajewski said that the incident did warrant a discussion with Fowler by the board, and said that any remedies should be discussed and agreed to by all sides, and then everyone should “move on.” Gajewski stated that nothing could be done to the damage to Mr. Fowler’s reputation that was the result of the fallout from “Volleyball”.
Statement Condemning Fowler
Following Gajewski, Luanne Grote, of Hoyleton, asked the board for permission to speak, saying that she did not realize that there would be a time for comment. Cook agreed to this, but then stated that following Grote’s statement, the board needed to enter closed session as scheduled, and again reiterated that there would be no statements made or action taken upon their return to open session.
“The reputation of this community and our high school is one that we have always been proud of,” said Grote. “Our teachers have earned the respect and admiration of the students they serve…they are fully vested in the community they serve.”
Grote addressed Fowler’s response in The Nashville News to the teacher’s spring vote of no confidence, saying it was condescending and she said, “this is not how a competent leader treats adult members of his team.”
“Now, thanks to Mr. Fowler’s “Superintendent’s Notes”, he has provided everyone with a firsthand example of the type of leadership he provides,” Grote said, “and his complete lack of judgement.”
“I was contacted by someone who worked for an organization dealing with abused children,” Grote continued. “He found Mr. Fowler’s article extremely disturbing, throwing up red flags everywhere, and urged us not to dismiss or ignore the content.”
Grote stated that her and her husband had firsthand knowledge of “dismissing red flags”, after a personal friend had abused a young girl, saying that after it came out, “we were able to connect the dots and recall the signs we had failed to recognize earlier. We vowed to do our best to never overlook such red flags again.”
Grote finished saying, “he doesn’t live in Nashville. He has no vested interest in our town. His conduct and lack of judgement have caused divisions and rifts that will be hard to repair…but this latest revelation cannot be ignored: he has to go. I implore the board, please, do what is right for our students, don’t allow one person to destroy the reputation of our school that our faculty and our students have worked so hard for countless years to build.”
Grote’s emotional closing was followed by a smattering of applause from others present.
Closed Session And Teachers Union Statement
Following Grote’s conclusion, the board immediately took a vote to enter into closed session.
The board stayed in closed session discussion for around two hours, and upon return to open, did not take action or make a statement.
Following the meeting, the Nashville teachers union issued a statement, which again stated that they believed that Fowler should resign or by removed from his position.
(Note, edited at 1:05 p.m., in order to reword the board’s opening statement)