Stephens apologizes for his actions
Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010 9:03 pm
By CHRIS MENEES
Former South Fulton Middle/High School principal Adam Stephens publicly apologized Thursday night for his actions during a recent meeting with the director of schools that resulted in his reassignment.
Stephens was reassigned to a classroom position at an elementary school in the Obion County School System following a Sept. 1 meeting that involved him and Obion County Director of Schools David Huss.
The matter was not addressed Tuesday night during the school board’s monthly meeting, although Stephens was in attendance at the session.
A number of South Fulton parents, students and faculty members have publicly expressed a show of support for Stephens and asked for him to be reinstated as principal. They organized a Thursday night meeting in which they asked school board members and Huss to meet with them to address their concerns.
In the meantime, Stephens and Huss met for nearly two hours Thursday morning to discuss the matter.
At 5:30 Thursday evening, a crowd of parents and students gathered in the South Fulton Middle/High School cafeteria for the session, which was held on the same night as the school’s parent-teacher conferences and a junior high football game.
Stephens and his wife, Jennifer, and Huss entered the cafeteria together and took seats at a front table with David Lamb, who represents South Fulton as a member of the Obion County School Board.
In opening the meeting, Lamb — who appeared in uniform while on duty for the South Fulton Police Department — said the meeting was requested by parents and students who wanted to know why Stephens was “relieved of his duties.”
He announced Stephens wanted to read from a statement.
Stephens began by expressing appreciation for the show of support — which he said is “humbling” — and by thanking the parents and Lamb, as well as by thanking the other board members and Huss for their devotion to school matters, the teachers for their dedication and, finally, the students.
“… To my students, I respect your reactions and behavior of the past several days. I have tried to be an example to you on a daily basis. I have tried to listen and to respond to you respectfully and to be there for many of you when you have needed me. In short, I love you unconditionally,” he said.
Stephens said he has had time to reflect on the events that transpired between him and Huss. He said he knows there have been rumors represented as truth, but he said there were only four people who witnessed the incident.
“I am here tonight to give you the facts and to clear any misconceptions that anyone may have. I do this because I feel that you have a right to know the truth and to know my feelings as I have reflected on the situation,” he said.
According to Stephens, he and coach Jeremy McFarland were called on Sept. 1 to a meeting with Huss regarding the disposition of a fundraiser McFarland conducted in the fall of 2009. He said no funds were missing from the fundraiser, which was the sale of pizza cards for $10 each, but some pizza cards were unaccounted for and an amount was therefore owed to the athletic account. The monetary value was $120.
Stephens said the internal audit conducted through the school system was reconciled during an exit conference Aug. 30 and the fundraiser matter concluded. He said the auditor considered it closed.
“Before I begin my account of the events, I want you all to know that Mr. Huss and I have taken the opportunity to speak at great length. He listened to me, gave me a chance to explain my views, and we spoke and listened to one another privately as professionals and representatives of this profession in which we have both been called to serve. As I stated previously, I have reflected and prayed about myself and with my pastor over these matters at length,” he said.
Stephens said the meeting with Huss was simply to answer questions that Huss had about the disposition of the fundraisers.
“After some preliminary statements and questions and answers, Mr. Huss made a statement that I took as offensive, as it was stated in front of Mr. McFarland,” he said. “Although I am the principal, I am not Mr. McFarland’s employer. I am his direct supervisor, as with every other employee of the school. Although the comment was offensive to me, I realize that my reaction was neither professional nor appropriate. After Mr. Huss made the comment, I removed myself from the meeting that was still in progress, which is an act of insubordination due to the fact that Mr. Huss is the director of schools and my immediate supervisor. At that point, I was reassigned.
“Furthermore, I returned to the meeting to explain to Mr. McFarland that I would be waiting for him in the car and took opportunity to exchange words with Mr. Huss. The comments themselves were not unprofessional as profanity — things like that, I did not do that. However, the act of disrespect I displayed was, again, unprofessional on my part. That was the conclusion of the incident that happened (Sept. 1).”
Stephens said he has privately acknowledged and apologized for his actions to Huss and “I now publicly do the same.”
“I acknowledge that I was wrong. I acted unprofessionally and, as an administrator, have brought some measure of dishonor to the education profession. For that, I am more than sorrowful for what has happened. I am repentant, for those of you who know what that means,” he said.
Twice during the statement, Stephens paused to regain his composure before continuing.
“Now that I have told you the events, I must tell you that I know the reasons why most of you are here tonight,” he continued. “While your intentions are admirable and the gesture will forever be remembered, a public hearing cannot and must not be used to undermine, sway or otherwise affect the decision of Mr. Huss or any director of schools in matters concerning an employee and his employer. I have reasoned with myself after trying to place myself in the position of Mr. Huss. The director of schools must make very difficult decisions and some of those decisions are his and his alone. I assure you that the decision Mr. Huss has made concerning my status has not been an easy one.
“He and I have had a very positive working relationship and he has helped me in my efforts to make some positive changes at South Fulton. I sincerely ask you to put yourself in his shoes tonight. He has attended this meeting freely, not knowing what he might face but still willing to face it.”
Stephens said he initially sought the counsel of the Tennessee Education Association, but, as of noon Thursday, withdrew his request for assistance “because I cannot see the honor in asking for assistance when I did act in an unprofessional manner.”
Stephens said he has explained to Huss that he would like to be reinstated as principal at South Fulton, but the two did not come to any conclusion during their meeting earlier in the day.
“He did listen to me and we showed each other mutual consideration to each other’s viewpoint,” he said. “That being said, I have acknowledged that I will respect and accept his decision regarding my placement. We often tell our children there are consequences for every action and it would be hypocritical of me to expect otherwise.
“As you can imagine, this has been a very difficult time for my immediate and extended family — which is to say, my school family. I personally have been granted some unexplainable measure of peace, but I ask you, if you are willing, to pray for my wife and daughter.”
Parent and event organizer Barbie Hardy read a prepared statement in support of Stephens before reading several other comments and letters from students, parents and members of the community.
Mrs. Hardy said she believes tempers flared during the incident between Stephens and Huss and she questioned whether the students’ best interest has been considered. She suggested an opportunity for a “cooling-off period,” as well as reinstatement with a probationary period to satisfy the claim of insubordination.
She also said students were willing to forego any protests or school walk-outs in order to attend Thursday night’s meeting and speak in an organized forum, where supporters were also asked to sign a petition. Two students — Landon Sowell and Andrew Pettigrew — read their own letters of support.
Lamb closed out the meeting and voiced his opinion about Stephens returning.
“As your member on the board, I’m only one vote, I’m only one voice. I will take whatever you bring to me to the board. But, in my opinion, if there is any way that this decision can be changed to bring Mr. Stephens back, I’d like to see it,” he said.
In addition to Lamb, three other school board members were present Thursday evening, but they did not speak. They included chairman Brian Rainey, vice chairman Diane Sanderson and Fritz Fussell.
School board members are not involved in personnel matters and serve as a policy-making panel. According to Obion County Board of Education’s policy regarding “duties of board members,” those duties include representing the board and the school system to the public in such a way as to promote both interest and support; and referring complaints to the director of schools and abstaining from individual counsel and action in regard to staff members.
Huss, who was not given the opportunity to speak during the gathering, even though he was seated to the left of the podium near Stephens, told The Messenger afterward that he stands by his decision.
“Mr. Stephens called me last night — as a matter of fact, about 24 hours before this meeting was to take place — and requested to meet with me, and I granted that request,” he said. “Today, we spoke for about two hours. Mr. Stephens understands my side; I understand Mr. Stephens’ side. And, in time, things will heal.”
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.