There is one thing in the recent turmoil at Greenbrier Elementary School about which everyone can agree: The episode polarized the school more than any other in recent memory.
After that, the opinions are as divided as the school itself. The best anyone can hope is that the settlement between Jon Pike and the Columbia County school system will also allow things at Greenbrier Elementary to settle down before students return this fall.
This past week's hearing on Pike's removal as principal never fully explored the case against him, mostly because the hearing bogged down in a half-day grilling of Associate Superintendent Lauren Williams, Pike's supervisor and one of 11 school system witnesses called to testify.
Under aggressive questioning from Pike's attorney, Williams had a tough time making a compelling case against the former principal, who came to Greenbrier in 2003. But it was clear that enough bad blood had been established between Pike and Williams, and between Pike and some of Greenbrier's teachers, that his tenure was toast.
It's a win-win decision, then, that Pike and the school board short-circuited further pursuit of the case and agreed on a settlement: Pike will keep his principal's salary for the next year, but will continue to work as a teacher. After that, all bets are off.
One little-reported aspect of this case is that it is eerily similar to Pike's removal from his previous job as principal of Lafayette High School in Walker County, Ga., in 2003. In both, Pike drew a core of supporters and a handful of detractors. His heavy-handed management style and handling of school money also played a role, as did his former military service.
The latter is especially odd. In Walker County, Pike accused his detractors of resenting his military background and demeanor; in Columbia County, one of the countercharges Pike made about Williams is that she was "biased" against him "because of his prior military affiliation."
But that wasn't Pike's only accusation. In the midst of a year-long saga of discussions and disagreements between teachers, the central office and Pike, the embattled principal counterattacked - with a blunderbuss of blanks.
Among the more serious allegations Pike made was that Williams had "directed" him to manipulate test scores. Though system officials of course dismiss the charge outright, the telling point is that state officials say such manipulation is so implausible that such a charge is ludicrous.
While the settlement officially brings the case to a close, it unfortunately does little to clear the air. Because Pike still has a job and he and Superintendent Tommy Price are bound by the agreement not to speak ill of the other, the waters will continue to roil only if his supporters do what Pike himself ultimately was unwilling to do: to continue fighting a no-win battle.
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