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Fired Gifford principal rehired for a new post


School Superintendent Mark Rendell has rehired Roxanne Decker – who he recently fired as principal of Gifford Middle School – as a countywide special education expert, despite her failures at Gifford and her lack of special education credentials.

By doing to, Rendell appears to be reneging on a promise he made when interviewing for the superintendent’s job in 2015. At that time, he said he would not move underperforming principals around but rather “move them out.”

School Board Member Laura Zorc took Decker’s hiring off the consent agenda, where it would have been approved without comment as part of a package of routine decisions, and made it an action item for discussion at last week’s special meeting.

“Based on what I know occurred at that school, [special education] is a huge area of weakness [for Decker],” Zorc said. “And there is the perception of shuffling around employees if they are not qualified.”

Teacher turnover was exceptionally high at Gifford under Decker’s leadership, with the school losing 30 percent of its teachers during the past school year.

Two former Gifford teachers, Bonnie Julin and Bill Wood, went before the School Board to complain about Decker. Both said they retired early to get away from chaos at the school resulting from her failures as a leader. The lack of effective special education programs and poor teacher support made it impossible for them to teach and the school was dangerous, by their account.

Decker dismissed their concerns and blamed them for “having poor classroom management skills,” but Julin and Wood were not alone in their opinions.

Out of 21 principals, Decker received the largest number of negative comments on the 2015-2016, end-of-year teacher survey – the most recent available.

A typical teacher review was: “She seems to follow unquestioningly anything sent down from the county [district administration] office. She denies that there are problems when faculty presents concerns and she lashes out at those who speak up. Faculty is overwhelmingly afraid of retaliation for speaking up. This administrator is a bully and has become dangerous.”

In fact, Decker failed by Rendell’s own standards. After being hired, he instituted school report cards with more detail than the standard state evaluations. Gifford’s report card went from an A to a C over the last five years of Decker’s tenure, and discipline metrics “did not meet expectations” for the last three years.

Despite all those problems, and Decker’s abrupt dismissal in June, School Board members voted 4-to-1 to support Rendell’s decision to hire her as special education supervisor.

“It’s all perception,” said board member Dale Simchick. “I think she is overqualified and was subject to a smear campaign in the media. I feel she did a fine job at Gifford.”

Simchick also warned Zorc the board would have to have “legal just cause” to deny Rendell’s recommendation Decker be hired for the job, and expressed her disappointment that the school district couldn’t find Decker a job that would pay what she had been making at Gifford. Decker was paid nearly $92,000 as principal and will make about $63,500 as resource specialist.

Decker’s new job title is Resource Specialist and there are 12 in the district. All but two – Decker and Tammy Broxton-Brown, both hired by Rendell and approved by the board last week – have Exceptional Student Education certifications requiring four-year college degrees, many with ESE-related graduate degrees and multiple ESE certifications.

So-called exceptional students include the physically handicapped, sight and hearing impaired, autistic, emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, mentally handicapped and those with other disabilities, as well as the gifted.

Federal law requires each student have an Individual Education Plan, a contract, which lays out how the student’s needs are to be addressed in the least restrictive environment their disabilities or gifts allow.

As a Resource Specialist, Decker will oversee Individual Education Plan meetings, which often include parents, doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, language and speech specialists, ESE teachers, social workers and legal representatives. ESE student files include neurological, medical, psychological and intelligence testing, and examination data not understandable to the layman.

Though she lacks education in this area, Decker will head and direct district ESE specialists and teachers, and decide if the Individual Education Plan is well written and meets legal requirements.