April 17, 2019The North Harrison Elementary School parking lot was overflowing Thursday evening with multiple softball games, archery practice and the meeting of the North Harrison Community School Corp. Board of Trustees.
The meeting, held in the cafeteria, was well-attended with interested observers and participants eager to address the resignation of boys' varsity basketball coach Kevin Jones and issues related to curriculum at North Harrison High School.
The board unanimously approved Jones' resignation and the hiring of Lou Lefevre, which was a late item added to the agenda.
Girls' varsity basketball coach Melissa Voyles spoke first on behalf of Jones, publicly thanking him for his support of the girls' team, students and North Harrison in general.
She thanked Jones, who teaches at North Harrison Middle School along with Voyles, for instilling in students that character and academic skills are needed in order to be a good athlete.
"And as a parent, for caring about my children as people above all," she said. "And being a strong role model for them."
Voyles relayed wisdom her former high school coach, Larry Martin, shared with her when she first became the varsity coach at NHHS.
"He told me to remember that for every year you coach high school basketball, there will be two new people who will want to run over me with their cars," she said. "I'm aware there are some who feel this way. As a coach, it's impossible to make everyone happy. Kevin's biggest weakness as a coach is that he tried."
She said Jones was a great team builder, taking the teams on trips to various college games.
"I could definitely learn from him in this regard," she said.
Voyles said she would not be OK with herself if she didn't wish Jones well and thank him publicly.
"On a final note, I would like you to contemplate my analogy. Not unlike a Broadway show, the behind-the-scenes turmoil is something no one gets to see without a backstage pass. I possess such a backstage pass to this production. I'd like to commend coach Jones for handling the behind-the-scenes turmoil as well as possible."
Voyles' husband, James, also publicly thanked Jones and spoke about being married to the head coach of the girls' program for 17 of their 26 years of marriage.
"You expect issues from parents; however, some of the peripheral behavior over the course of her coaching career has been quite disturbing," he said. "I don't mention this to be disrespectful, but things need to change or this school will start losing some really good people."
He then said in the past 26 years North Harrison has changed boys' basketball coaches on average approximately every 4-1/2 years.
"If my math is correct, the overall record was 287-314. I find it very hard to believe that the results of the program are totally on the coaching," he said. "Coach Jones, I wish you the best, and I look forward to seeing you on the sidelines very soon."
Tim Gutknecht and Lynn Whittaker also took the opportunity to speak.
"It's my understanding coach Jones had no choice other than to tender his resignation to this board," Gutknecht said. "If this is true, I feel a great injustice has been done to this coach and to this community."
Gutknecht said it is his understanding the board often defers to the administration and he thought Jones had been treated poorly by this administration and the lack of transparency is "not only reprehensible but shows a lack of character and integrity."
Whittaker said Jones is from North Harrison, as she is.
"We need people homegrown, North Harrison people, who are going to be here for our kids," she said.
She said there was "serious upheaval in the community" that needs to get under control.
The next person to speak was Donetta Reed, a social studies teacher at NHHS.
She asked the board to reconsider its position on addressing agenda items because many of her students were there to discuss curriculum and education in light of an advertisement in this newspaper by Palmyra resident Aaron Smith to NHHS students and parents about an opportunity for students to take online Credit Recovery/PLATO courses from their home.
"You will still be eligible to earn an Academic Honors Diploma," Smith stated in the advertisement. "Some of these classes might be required to graduate, and they are not weighted. However, since you are taking them via Credit Recovery/PLATO, they will not be calculated into your grade point average."
Smith added that this opportunity has been available to NHHS students in the past but was not included in the student handbook.
"Unfortunately, my three boys were not aware and could not take advantage," Smith wrote. "But, my hope is that our future NHHS graduates are aware of this opportunity and will be able to pursue as many scholarship opportunities as possible."
Reed asked if there would be any policy changes before the upcoming graduation.
Board president Veronica Battista said she was not aware of any policy changes.
After a brief intermission to visit with the newly-formed and nationally-qualified archery team, the board reconvened to address concerns.
Matt Kellems, the high school principal, said the school has a site license to administer online classes, not only as credit recovery, as in the past, but also as original credit courses.
"Having that site license gives us a lot of latitude in how to help you," he said to the students at the meeting.
"It's very important to note no student at North Harrison has received any type of unfair advantage through online classes," Kellems said.
Kellems said the online classes are not encouraged because the school corporation would rather students be in the classroom, with the teachers, which is also why it is not in the student handbook.
Kellems said if any student has questions, they can come see him.
"If you have a situation, I'm going to try to work with you," he said.
Dr. Lance Richards, superintendent of the North Harrison Community School Corp., said they are going to make sure the language is clear in the handbook, including all options students have.
"Nobody is going to gain an advantage; nobody is going to game the system," he said. "We don't want that kind of race; that's not fair to you."
Students asked multiple questions, addressing the online classes, weighted classes and more.
"If you have any questions, don't let them go unanswered, OK?" Kerry Ingle, board member, said, before the board adjourned.
A couple of students raised their hands to ask questions before the adjournment took place, and many approached the board to ask questions when the meeting concluded.
On Monday, senior class president Jason Schmidt said, "I would like to start by stating that I blame none of my classmates for what has transpired at my school.
"My confusion and disappointment, however, reside in the administration," he said. "The issue that my classmates and I have is not with whether or not these online classes should be offered. On the contrary, I believe that taking these online classes could be very advantageous, and, if I had known I had the opportunity, I certainly would have taken them."
Schmidt said the issue is that the majority of the students were never told they could take these classes.
"The availability of these classes was never divulged to most of us, and it is not mentioned in the student handbook," he said. "The administration claims that there is no advantage to taking these online classes. However, taking these online classes at home allows one to take an extra class at school. These extra classes taken at school may be weighted.
"I have also spoken with several students who have taken similar, online credit recovery classes," Schmidt continued. "These students all have told me that these classes are much easier than what we take here at school … taking these online classes has the potential to be very advantageous, and it is imperative that all North Harrison students should receive the same opportunities."