Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Bitterness follows superintendent's hiring

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        READING — Sherry Parr says she's a consensus builder, and she'll have ample opportunity to do that as she settles into the job of Reading school superintendent.

        Ms. Parr, principal of Central Elementary School, was named Monday night to succeed John Varis, who resigned after controversial remarks about arming teachers to protect students.

        The board of education selected Ms. Parr by a 3-2 vote from among four candidates within the district.

        Some parents were pleased; others thought the move was too hasty.

        And the hire drew immediate, sharp criticism from one incoming school board member, who complained that the outgoing board acted swiftly to prevent the new board majority from selecting the next superintendent.

        “I can tell you that Mrs. Parr is not the problem here,” said Tom Bemmes, a Sycamore Junior High School teacher who will join the board Jan. 1.

        “The problem is the present board. They slipped her in through the back door.”

        Mr. Bemmes said board members knew the new majority favored Arnie Elam, the district's director of student services and instruction.

        Mrs. Parr said Tuesday she has heard comments describing her as a clone of Mr. Varis.

        “I and Dr. Varis have very different leadership styles,” she said. “Mine has been as a consensus builder.”

        Mrs. Parr said she has been recognized nationally for her leadership style as the National Distinguished Principal in 1998 by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

        Mrs. Parr, who began working out of the administrator's offices Tuesday, said she values a system where parents, students and teachers want open discussion of issues with administrators.

        The recent community con troversy can be a “golden opportunity for continuing community input” among residents, the administration and the board to better the district, Mrs. Parr said.

        Mrs. Parr came to Reading in 1992 from Freedom Elementary School in the Lakota School District in Butler County. She taught previously at Lakota and in the Mount Healthy system.

        She was selected over three other candidates:

        • Mr. Elam.

        • Ken McWhorter, a Reading Junior/Senior High School social studies teacher and former principal at the school for 13 years, who also served five years as assistant principal.

        • Wanda Hill, principal at Hilltop Elementary School, who was appointed in 1998 and had been principal at William Bick Elementary School in Bethel, Bethel-Tate High School and Goshen Intermediate School.

        Mrs. Parr's salary was not discussed during Monday's board meeting. She said she will negotiate with the board prior to Jan. 1, when her contract officially begins.

        Mr. Bemmes stressed he was not being critical of Mrs. Parr's abilities and called her “a dynamic personality who can come in and do the job.”

        “My concern, however, is her lack of experience at the high school level ... and she has zero experience in a central office.”

        Mr. Elam declined to comment about the controversy.

        “I look forward to working with her,” he said. “I have been working with her for eight years now. She is a very competent administrator. She gets things done.”

        Mr. McWhorter said he was disappointed, but added the other candidates were well-qualified. Ms. Hill could not be reached.

        Some residents said after Monday night's meeting that the board was hasty in its decision, but others disagreed.

        “I'm thrilled,” said Pam Mages, who has two children in Reading schools. “I was involved in Reading Central and (Mrs. Parr) has excellent leadership skills. She has taken that school to new heights.

        “She got grants, a science lab. We have great teachers. She just pulled it all together for us. She respects opinions and discusses issues and listens. Her prime focus is the children and the schools.”

        Ms. Mages said Mr. Elam was principal at Hilltop Elementary, “so there are parents who support him, who are upset about this.”


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