Grove Street’s Tillman Whitley reinstated by school board

Published 11:45 am Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Grove Street School reading teacher who was fired in May for insubordination was reinstated Tuesday.

Tillman Whitley had appealed his termination to the Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees in a four-hour hearing. Half of the session was in executive session and closed to the public.

Four of the five school board members — District 5 Trustee Sally Bullard was absent — voted unanimously to reinstate Whitley with the possibility that he be transferred to another school for the academic year that begins Aug. 8.

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“I’m elated,” Whitley, a 30-year educator, said after the hearing that attracted more than two dozen supporters for him.

Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford, the only witness for the district, said she was “comfortable with the decision.”

“We came to a mutual agreement, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was insubordinate,” she said. “It doesn’t change the fact that he willfully neglected to perform his duties. But in order to reach a good, happy medium, we settled half way on both sides giving him one more opportunity.”

Whitley’s placement is dependent on vacancies and his certification, which he said is in special education, and his pay will remain the same as last year’s, Swinford said.

Whitley was fired from his job at the district’s alternative school May 26, about two months after his contract was renewed, for insubordination and willful neglect his duties. He filed an appeal shortly after.

Swinford, who was hired in August to replace the retiring Dr. James Price, testified Whitley was insubordinate when he walked out of a meeting with her that he had requested. She said he also was insubordinate to Paula Johnson, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, by not responding to requests for a meeting with her.

Whitley said he left the meeting because Johnson was present, and he had requested a private conference with the superintendent.

Initially, the conflict arose over plans for changes at Grove Street, which is attended by students in grades 1 through 12 who need special academic and discipline programs. The administration sought to increase division between elementary and secondary students.

The changes also involved moving Whitley from one classroom to another, a move to which he objected.

A series of e-mails and calls regarding the revisions were exchanged between Whitley and the administration, and Johnson suspended Whitley without pay until he met with her.

Whitley’s attorney, Lisa Ross of Jackson, was set to prove Johnson’s action was not consistent with state law, which says Whitley should have been given the option of a formal hearing to appeal the suspension. Whitley was not notified of an option for a hearing, Ross told the board.

She also said Whitley was not insubordinate to Swinford, who should have met with him in private, as he had requested.

“We’re elated,” Ross said following the hearing. “He’s dedicated to the young people of Vicksburg. He just wanted to go back to the classroom.”

Whitley was Swinford’s first termination at the district, Swinford said.

Grove Street’s principal for the 2011-12 school year Kelvin Wymbs, who had been out on sick leave in April and May, was reported to have resigned at the end of the school year and Dr. Edward Wiggins, principal of Warren Central Intermediate, reportedly retired after 30 years as an educator.

Both contracts also had been renewed in March.

Those positions, along with Beechwood principal Chris Perritt, were reported after the school board’s May 26 regular meeting, when other employees retiring from the district were honored.