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The Belgrade News

EXPANDED Belgrade School Board votes not to fire Nesbitt

McNelis, School Board discuss controversy

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Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 8:36 am

After listening to 80 minutes of testimony from students, former students, teachers, parents and Lisa Nesbitt herself Tuesday morning, the Belgrade Board of Education nixed a motion to fire the popular high school social studies teacher.

The split vote came after an emotional meeting in which 32 people pleaded with trustees to override a recommendation from the high school principals to cancel Nesbitt's teaching contract for next year.

Board Chairman Lance Voegele voted to follow the recommendation of the high school principals and terminate Nesbitt. Trustees Bob Marx and Sherie Jolliff joined him in the vote. The trio said their reasons for voting as they did are protected under state law, which allows non-tenured teachers to be fired without cause.

"All three principals were behind this issue," Jolliff said after the meeting. "To me, that says a lot. I know (Belgrade High School Principal) Kevin McNelis wouldn't come to this decision easily."

Trustees Peter Morgan, Troy Timmer and Dee Batey voted against the motion to terminate Nesbitt and Peggy Lucas abstained, saying only, "I can't make this vote." Because the motion failed on a 3-3 tie, Nesbitt is retained.

Morgan, interviewed Tuesday afternoon, said he based his decision on the morning's public testimony and made up his mind after listening to the outpouring of support for Nesbitt.

"Mrs. Nesbitt is a great teacher; I don't have any issues with her as a teacher," he said. "She now has another opportunity to prove she will be a valuable employee.

"That's important because she has had a direct impact over students, which was obvious by the actions over the past few days," he added.

Nesbitt has taught government and advanced-placement government for three years. She was up for tenure when in a unanimous recommendation, McNelis and assistant principals Russ McDaniel and Rick Phillips recommended the board not extend her contract. No reason was given to Nesbitt or the public, and under the law no cause is required to dismiss non-tenured teachers.

Upon learning of the administration's recommendation Friday, the student body rallied around Nesbitt, gathering petition signatures, posting signs and, on Monday, walking out of first-period classes to stage a rally in the rain on the BHS football field.

No one testified against Nesbitt at Tuesday's meeting.

Nesbitt and her husband, Jeff Nesbitt, said they were "overwhelmed" by the support of the students, staff and community and were baffled by the administration's recommendation.

"I have had excellent evaluations," she told the board, reading from prepared comments (more to come on that later today).

Sophomore BHS student Matt Powell-Palm, who helped rally students and organize the walkout Monday, told the board Nesbitt is an "exceptional teacher," and was one of at least two dozen people who spoke in favor of her at Tuesday's meeting.

"We can still make this experience a positive experience," he said. "People have been inspired by this experience. ... It ends with us keeping Lisa Nesbitt for next year."

Bryce Carpenter, a professor of education at Montana State University, where Nesbitt is an adjuct professor of teaching methods, said she has put Belgrade's AP government program "on the map" statewide, and has helped the MSU secondary teacher education program retain its accreditation. He called her a "very generous" leader and role model and urged the school board to retain her.

"She has helped put the Belgrade social studies program on the map in Helena at the (Office of Public Instruction)" he said. "Her imprint is seen in reservation schools, Class C schools Class AA schools. She is a committed, professional educator."

With tears soaking her chest, BHS junior Tristan Peterson told the board that when she transferred from Manhattan she was addicted to drugs and failing school. Nesbitt and two other teachers "helped me turn everything around." She now has a 3.7 GPA and is the senior class president-elect.

"Don't do this," she said of the termination. "She's a phenomenal teacher. You're making a mistake by letting her go."

Nesbitt is also a member of the Belgrade Education Association, the union that represents teachers in Belgrade. Teachers have been working without a contract all year, unable to strike and agreement with the board over pay and benefits. She said she is a strong supporter of the union, but did not speculate about whether that contributed to the administration's decision to recommend her termination.

Others have, including Powell-Palm and other student leaders at Monday's walkout, who said the district is rooting out strong union leaders. Administrators denied that.

"There is no relationship between this and negotiations with any employee group," Superintendent Herb Benz said of the administrative decision Monday. "Union participation is not something we keep records of."

Morgan agreed: "It had nothing to do with her activities with the union at all."

Like the other trustees, board Vice-Chair Morgan declined to discuss the reasons behind the controversy, but said it has brought up an issue he has been talking about since he joined the board -- teacher performance reviews. He reiterated Nesbitt's and others' statements that Nesbitt has always received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

"We need to do a better job of how we deal with the performance review process," he said. "That will prevent these kinds of issues."

Specifically, he said, Nesbitt's performance reviews don't mesh with the administration's recommendation that she not receive tenure.

"Hopefully the issues will be addressed," he said. "This is a bigger issue than just (Nesbitt). This just brought it to a head.

"Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say there wasn't a reason; administrators don't take those decisions lightly," he added. "But we can't talk about why, and the public needs to understand that too.

Morgan said he supports the administration and the performance review question is a system-wide problem that administrators don't necessarily control.

"I trust our administrators and believe they made the decision based on their best judgment," he added. "When I walked into that room this morning I hadn't made up my mind, but anyone with that much support must be doing something right."

But, he said, "I don't think the board had all the information we potentially could have had. I wanted to go in and make a decision based on all the information we had."

At the end of the meeting, McNelis said he stands by his recommendation concerning Nesbitt.

"I did what my heart told me was right," he said. "I realize this was a tough decision for you because she is a popular teacher and does a good job.

But he also had some words for the board, telling trustees their decision undermined his and other administrators' ability to lead and fostered doubt about his own job performance.

"I wonder where are you going with me? If I'm not doing my job, then you need to tell me."

McNelis said the situation has caused "a riff" at the high school that will be compounded by the board's vote. But, he added, administrators will try to remedy the problem.

And Nesbitt said she, too, hopes the controversy is water under the bridge.

"I'm excited about teaching," she said. "We'll be okay. I'm not going to dwell on whys; I'm going to do my job."

FOLLOWING IS OUR ORIGINAL STORY POSTED AFTER TUESDAY'S BOARD ACTION.

After listening to 80 minutes of testimony from students, former students, teachers, parents and Nesbitt herself Tuesday morning, the Belgrade Board of Education voted 3-3 against a motion to fire the popular high school social studies teacher.

The board vote came after an emotional meeting in which 32 peopleĀ  pleaded with trustees to override a recommendation from the high school principals to cancel Nesbitt's teaching contract for next year.

Board Chairman Lance Voegele was joined by trustees Bob Marx and Sherie Jolliff in voting in favor of terminating Nesbitt. Trustees Peter Morgan, Troy Timmer and Dee Batey voted against and Peggy Lucas abstained. Because the motion failed, Nesbitt is retained.

Nesbitt has taught government and advanced-placement government for three years. She was up for tenure when in a unanimous recommendation, Principal Kevin McNelis and assistant principals Russ McDaniel and Rick Phillips recommended the board not extend her contract, McNelis said. No reason was given to Nesbitt or the public, and under the law no reason is required to dismiss non-tenured teachers.

Upon learning of the administration's recommendation Friday, the student body rallied around Nesbitt, gathering petition signatures, posting signs and, on Monday, walking out of first-period classes to stage a rally in the rain on the BHS football field.

Nesbitt and her husband, Jeff Nesbitt, said they were "overwhelmed" by the support of the students, staff and community and were baffled by the administration's recommendation.

"I have had excellent evaluations," she told the board, reading from prepared comments (more to come on that later today).

Sophomore BHS student Matt Powell-Palm, who helped rally students and organize the walkout Monday, told the board Nesbitt is an "exceptional teacher," and was one of at least two dozen people who spoke in favor of her at Tuesday's meeting.

"We can still make this experience a positive experience," he said. "People have been inspired by this experience. ... It ends with us keeping Lisa Nesbitt for next year."

Bryce Carpenter, a professor of education at Montana State University, where Nesbitt is an adjuct professor of teaching methods, said she has put Belgrade's AP government program "on the map" statewide, and has helped the MSU secondary teacher education program retain its accreditation. He called her a "very generous" leader and role model and urged the school board to retain her.

"She has helped put the Belgrade social studies program on the map in Helena at the (Office of Public Instruction)" he said. "Her imprint is seen in reservation schools, Class C schools Class AA schools. She is a committed, professional educator."

Nesbitt is also a member of the Belgrade Education Association, the union that represents teachers in Belgrade. Teachers have been working without a contract all year, unable to strike and agreement with the board over pay and benefits. She said she is a strong supporter of the union, but did not speculate about whether that contributed to the administration's decision to recommend her termination.

Others have, including Powell-Palm and other student leaders at Monday's walkout, who said the district is rooting out strong union leaders. Administrators denied that.

"There is no relationship between this and negotiations with any employee group," he said of the administrative decision Monday. "Union participation is not something we keep records of."

Upon Tuesday's vote, Voegele told the amassed crowd Nesbitt's contract was "not not renewed," which Nesbitt and the audience took to mean "renewed." The board did not, however, act on an affirmative motion to keep her and it is unclear whether they need to take further action.

This story will be updated online Tuesday as it develops.

© 2015 The Belgrade News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.

10 comments:

  • boatrider posted at 8:16 pm on Wed, May 26, 2010.

    boatrider Posts: 6

    Hmmm... like I said yesterday before this story was updated... Poor Mr. Mac... what a terrible position to be in...

    "At the end of the meeting, McNelis said he stands by his recommendation concerning Nesbitt.
    "I did what my heart told me was right," he said. "I realize this was a tough decision for you because she is a popular teacher and does a good job.
    But he also had some words for the board, telling trustees their decision undermined his and other administrators' ability to lead and fostered doubt about his own job performance."
    "I wonder where are you going with me? If I'm not doing my job, then you need to tell me."

    Is it okay for students to protest? YES!!! Is it okay that they may have had bearing on the final decision???? UNSURE!!!!! It is one thing to speak your mind and be heard, but to get your way... I don't know. What will come in the future... walk outs over restroom breaks? Lunch meals? class schedules? dress code policies???? What's next????

    I also want to know... did this teacher encourage students to do this? Was she involved? If so, shame on her... that is not professional at all to involve young, impressionable, minds--- especially when the information available to the students and public is so limited and one-sided. I'm sure she knows in heart the real reasons for the administration's recommendations --- sure this didn't just come out of the blue... that's something she has to live with.

    Mr. Mac is being professional by not airing her dirty laundry in public... she should appreciate that.

     
  • weatherman1 posted at 7:14 pm on Wed, May 26, 2010.

    weatherman1 Posts: 3

    I would have to say that if Mr. Mac recommended the termination then it was for good reason and I hope the reason comes out. I don't understand how the board could not back up their administrators. I think there are some changes that need to be made. I hear Troy Timmer has some strong ties to Lisa Nesbitt and her family. Why didn't he abstain from voting.

     
  • boatrider posted at 10:44 am on Wed, May 26, 2010.

    boatrider Posts: 6

    Newsboy, unmatching socks? Really? You make make me laugh!

    I too, agree, performance reviews must be accurate. However, even after tenure it is my understanding that unless she now hits or molests a student it will be very hard to fire her. Just my assumption... luckily I don't have any first hand experience!

    And, if the administration gives a cause... it will no longer be without cause-- new can of worms!!! Thus, the likely reason they are so tight-lipped about the whole thing. I guess the reasoning for this recommendation and MESS is on a "need to know" basis and I guess we don't need to know????

     
  • newsboy posted at 10:22 pm on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    newsboy Posts: 2 Staff

    Boatrider, I think the implication is she's a great teacher but maybe not a great employee. Who knows what that could mean. Maybe she wears unmatching socks to work. It doesn't really matter because you are right, she has tenure now and that means the district must have good cause if they want to dismiss her in the future. I think that's where Peter Morgan's comments are right on target -- make sure performance reviews accurately reflect her performance not only as a teacher, but as an employee. I think that's where the admin fell short if I'm reading that comment right.

     
  • logchief posted at 9:49 pm on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    logchief Posts: 1

    Ms Lucas is not fulfilling her responsibilities in as much as she abstained and let the issue pass without a majority. If she does not have the nerve to make a decision as important as this she should take a hike

     
  • boatrider posted at 9:36 pm on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    boatrider Posts: 6

    According to one Trustee "Mrs. Nesbitt is a great teacher; I don't have any issues with her as a teacher," he said. "She now has another opportunity to prove she will be a valuable employee." Hmmm... well, you better hope she turns out to be valueable becasue now that she's tenured... she's yours until she retires!

     
  • boatrider posted at 9:32 pm on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    boatrider Posts: 6

    Yep... Belgrade should get some new administration. If the Board can not support their administration's recommendations-- time to get new administration. I'd love to be her boss after this incident! NOT!!!

    "Mr. Mac" should look for a new job anyway... why would he want to work in a district where is hard, well-thought out and difficult decisions are not supported by the Board?

    It is crazy that someone can like "Mr. Mac" and then not support his decision. How can he be as someone describes... "He cares very deeply about his students and it shows." And someone NOT support his recommendation??? If he deeply cares about his students I doubt he would make a recommendation to non-renew a teacher that they so dearly loved unless he had thought about it deeply and thoroughly. I'm sure he DID not come to this decision lightly.

    AND what is up with Trustee Peggy Lucas abstaining??? MAKE A DECISON!!! Take a side... well, I guess you did when you abstained... you vote to KEEP her on staff!

    Oh and way to show students that it is okay to hold a demenstration... I commend the 32 students that showed up at the board meeting... that is the way to handle things--- it's the mature way to deal with a difficutl situation... it's called the chain of command. Pat yourselves on the back.

    AND why would Nisbett even want to continue working in a school where her THREE, count them THREE, administrators recommended she NOT work there??? Excuse me, but I doubt I'd want to work in a job where my boss didn't want me there. If she is as wonderful as they say she is I'm sure she would have no problem finding a new job where her obvious talents and love for children will be fully appreciated.

     
  • Zerbster posted at 8:50 pm on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    Zerbster Posts: 2

    Who said anything about Mr. Mac? He should be rewarded for sticking to his guns---maybe the school board could learn something from that.

     
  • weatherman1 posted at 5:03 pm on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    weatherman1 Posts: 3

    Congratulations to the Belgrade School Board for insuring that many ineffective teachers and horrible employess will keep their jobs in the future. I guess the lesson is simple: get a mob worked up in a frenzy and they'll force people to make less than rationale decisions. Too bad for the kids of the future. It seems to me that the law prevents us from hearing why both teachers were recommended for firing but I am guessing that there were very good reasons.

     
  • montanadiane posted at 11:48 am on Tue, May 25, 2010.

    montanadiane Posts: 1

    I am happy with this decission. For so many students to show such a mass support for a teached is incredible. I would hate for the students to lose a special principal as "Mr. Mac", he shows his support and love for the students every day. I see him at EVERY student event that there is, and I do mean EVERY one!!! He cares very deeply about his students and it shows. You could walk through the school with him and I would estimate that he knows about 90% of them by name. This is not something you find in a principal every day. I know that he may be concerned about his postion but unless the board wants another fight on their hands from the student body I am sure that they will make the right decission and not let Mr. Mac go. He is the type of principal that can never be replaced.

     


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