published Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Signal Mountain Middle/High School parents rally around principal

Tom McCullough
Tom McCullough
Matt Fields-Johnson

DOCUMENT EXCERPT: "There may be no way to determine how many students Dr. McCullough has positively influenced during his 42 years as an educator. We are signing this petition because he has made a difference in our lives. We understand that mistakes may have been made. But to end such an accomplished career with a suspension because of actions by other adults -- and a threat of harsher discipline if Dr. McCullough dares to even appeal the suspension -- is simply wrong. Please show that the Hamilton County Department of Education does, indeed, value achievement in our schools, and allow Dr. McCullough to retire with the respect he deserves."

ON THE WEB

View the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/remove-dr-tom-mcculloughs-suspension/

Poll
Should Signal Mountain Principal Tom McCullough's suspension be lifted?

Signal Mountain Middle/High School parents, alumni and others in the community are circulating a petition asking Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith to lift his suspension of Principal Tom McCullough.

On Wednesday evening, the petition had been signed by more than 300 people

The principal announced his intent to retire last week amid a scandal involving school employees who consumed alcohol while chaperoning a cruise with the school's seniors. McCullough's contract was to end on June 30, but on Friday the superintendent suspended the principal for the remainder of his tenure.

Meanwhile, the school employees, who were to have their licenses revoked for one year by the state board of education, now face much lower sentences, thanks in part to help from Smith.

Guidance counselors Leann Welch and Anne Cushing face six-month suspensions, while counselor Leslie Sharpe, Assistant Principal Jason McKinney and teacher Steven Redman will receive letters of reprimand which "just acknowledges that misconduct occurred," state board general counselor Dannelle Walker said.

She said the board amended its decision after talking with Smith, school board attorney Scott Bennett and Stacey Stuart, assistant superintendent for human resources.

"They gave us a clearer picture," Walker said, noting that the board learned the employees were not drinking around students.

However, while Smith intervened for other Signal Mountain employees before the state, many are still upset that he personally suspended the school's principal.

"Mr. Smith, I am dismayed that you have seen fit to continue to drag the good name of a wonderful educator through the mud. ... You seem to be doing everything in your power to publicly humiliate Dr. McCullough and our community," wrote one online signee who identified herself as Lisa Shander.

"I worked for Dr. McCullough for many years, and he is one of the most sincere, honest man I have ever known. He takes his job seriously as an educator and leader of students. I was very shocked and disappointed in Rick Smith's decision. He obviously does not know Dr. Tom McCullough very well," added user Heather Daniel.

The petition was written and posted to ipetitions.com late Tuesday night by Leslie Smith, who has three children in Signal Mountain schools and was a student at Hixson High School when McCullough was principal there. She said her purpose is twofold -- to show support for the principal and to pressure Rick Smith.

"I hope it at least keeps him awake at night," she wrote in an email to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In a letter to the principal, Rick Smith said McCullough failed to follow protocol by sending a classified employee on the trip as a chaperone, costing the education department nearly $1,500 in overtime pay. The principal also "disregarded a specific directive" by sharing confidential information during a faculty meeting on April 17, the letter alleges.

On Wednesday, when asked if he will appeal his suspension, McCullough said he is "seeking the advice of professionals," but declined to comment further. If he decides to appeal, he has until May 28.

Attempts to reach Rick Smith on Wednesday were unsuccessful, and school board assistant Ann Bates said the board had not received word of the petition.

The petition applauds McCullough for presiding over a student body which tested in the top 5 percent of the state and a senior class with a 100 percent college acceptance rate. It also notes that the school boasts Hamilton County's first International Baccalaureate Program, and Leslie Smith proudly discussed the rigorous qualification process required for IB authorization.

"That is a tremendous accomplishment that Rick Smith has just swept under the rug," she said.

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