Friday, March 23, 2001

Schools put uproar behind them

St. Bernard-Elmwood principal will be staying in job

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. BERNARD — The key players in a dispute over the performance of a St. Bernard-Elmwood Place school principal vow to put it behind them and get on with educating children.

        John Estep, principal at the Educational Advancement Center (EAC), has been under fire for months. But on Monday, the St. Bernard-Elmwood Place school board unanimously backed him, rejecting the superintendent's recommendation not to renew Mr. Estep's contract.

        Superintendent James Thomas said he accepts the board's decision.

        “Differences of opinion oc cur between rational peo ple,” he said. “This was a case, in point, and we'll move on from here.” Hundreds of residents showed up at two meetings this month when Mr. Estep's performance was addressed in executive session. EAC students and former colleagues at Princeton schools, where Mr. Estep worked 17 years, were among those who spoke in favor of him during the public part of the meetings.

        Personnel matters are confidential, but many residents were frustrated by the lack of information about the specific allegations against Mr. Estep. The board did say letters from staff members and the public addressed problems with student discipline and supervision.

        Joe Wheeler, school board vice president, made the motion to reject the superintendent's recommendation. He later voted no on a one-year contract for Mr. Estep because he thought the principal should have received a two-year deal.

        “I felt evidence or supposed evidence against Mr. Estep was flimsy, minor nit picking or errors anyone could have made,” Mr. Wheeler said. “Some of them were minor things blown out of proportion. I truly, in my heart, didn't think it even warranted a reprimand, let alone a nonrenewal. I felt it was a personality conflict.”

        Mr. Estep, a former St. Bernard-Elmwood Place school board member, is both principal and teacher at the EAC, the district's alternative school. Last year, he was principal at Elmwood Place Elementary.

        “Through this entire ordeal, I've learned that there are some things where I can do a better job in certain areas,” he said. “We all have our strengths and weaknesses. I'd like to continue and assist here any way I can. That doesn't lock me into this district. If there are other avenues, I may be willing to pursue those.”


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