The Wiscasset School Committee voted, 4-0, to conduct a dismissal hearing regarding the current middle and high school Principal Gina Stevens following a public Nov. 13 personnel discussion. Stevens has served as the full-time principal since July 1 after previously serving on an interim basis.
Superintendent Kim Andersson sent a memo listing a litany of reasons for Stevens immediate dismissal. Among Andersson’s complaints included Stevens removing a student without a mandatory expulsion hearing, student abuse following questioning about bathroom vaping incident, lack of communication over knowledge of a staff member’s resignation and staff abuse resulting from a controversial hidden camera placement.
“Ms. Stevens has refused to take any responsibility for her behavior as described above. Her behavior was in contravention of her responsibilities and obligations as principal, and demonstrates her repeated dishonesty, poor judgement, lack of responsibility and communication failures,” Andersson said. “As a result, she can no longer be trusted to do her job in a professional manner or support all students and staff. A continuance of Ms. Stevens pattern of misbehavior is highly likely given she still refuses to admit any wrongdoing or take responsibility for her behavior. This presents an unacceptable risk of liability for the school department and potential harm to students and staff. Conclusion: based on the facts, it’s not in the interest of WMHS staff and students for Ms. Stevens to continue her conduct which negatively affects her ability and fitness to perform the necessary duties as principal, and cause does exist to immediately terminate her employment.”
Prior to the vote, the committee went into executive session. When they returned committee member Victoria Hugo-Vidal made the motion to schedule a termination hearing. There is no date scheduled as Stevens’ attorney Gregg Frame, a Portland-based labor attorney needs to coordinate a date with school officials.
The decision to schedule a termination hearing along with not allowing public comment led to several audience outbursts. Stevens along with about 80 residents were not allowed to speak. School Committee Chairman Jason Putnam repeatedly tried to silence public outbursts. “There is no public comment. Gina (Stevens) chose to hold this in public which we granted, and which is her right. But there is no public comment.”
After more outbursts, Putnam, again, tried to silence the crowd before admonishing them for their actions during the hearing and in the community. “I’m really not happy with how the town has handled this,” he said. “This is a confidential personnel matter. She decided to make it public. In the meantime, an incredible amount of lying and insulting and embarrassing behavior has occurred in this town. Some teachers, non-teachers and some parents. I can’t believe it. It’s despicable. I think you all should be ashamed.”
Putnam’s remarks triggered a reply from WMHS junior Anna Strozier, who was one of several students who attended the hearing with a sign supporting Stevens. “You say this isn’t personal, but this my principal so it’s personal to me. Listening to all the lies in the past 30 minutes makes it personal,” she said.
Following the hearing, Frame said he is still in the midst of fact-finding, but Stevens denies all the allegations. “The allegations are just simply false,” Frame said. “We will be ready for the hearing with witnesses and evidence disputing everything. This includes whether the superintendent knew about hidden camera. She did.”
Even though the hearing is straining community relationships, one committee member saw a silver-lining in the dark clouds. Vice-chairman Desiree Bailey appreciated the passion and support the controversy brought. “I’m gonna say it. I think this is beautiful and amazing. I’m really proud of how you showed up for her and your town,” she said.
Tanya Robinson of Waldoboro is a former special education teacher for grades 6-8. She showed up with a sign proclaiming Stevens as displaying “stability, unity, honesty, fairness, our future.” She didn’t know much about the specific allegations against the principal, but she does know Stevens. “I support Gina and the school committee should know the facts,” she said. “I know Gina. She is fair and loyal and exactly what this school needs. I can’t say enough good about Gina.”
The public didn’t have an opportunity to speak during the special hearing Monday, but several vowed to speak during the regular committee meeting on Tuesday.