BRIGHTON — Roberta Harrell came to Bromley Charter School nearly two years ago with big plans to rocket the already high-achieving Bromley East Charter School into another stratosphere as a school geared toward a science, math and engineering curriculum.
She left March 2 under a cloud of mystery that school leaders attempted to squelch with well wishes for Harrell’s future and an eagerness to move forward.
“There will be questions by concerned parties regarding why the board chose to pursue the controversial decision to discontinue her service at BECS,” board chairman Charles Elliston said. “The board did not take this decision lightly nor without grave deliberation. We prefer not to share our reasoning publicly out of respect for Ms. Harrell.
“The board wishes Ms. Harrell nothing but the very greatest success in her future endeavors,” he added.
The school’s board of directors voted to fire Harrell following a public board meeting where parents, teachers and students made impassioned pleas to keep the second-year principal. Harrell also spoke on her own behalf. The board then met in executive session to discuss the matter. When the board members returned, they made the decision to terminate Harrell.
Assistant principal Lori Sheldon was immediately appointed as the K-8 school’s interim principal.
While the board’s official statement on Harrell’s firing praised her as “instrumental” in the elevation of the school to the “next level of excellence” and noted her energy, enthusiasm and “engaging” smile, it did little to answer the questions of how the new partnership – designed to invigorate the school – soured.
Sheldon, the school’s interim principal. was hired with Harrell as part of the school’s new administrative team in 2010. That administrative overhaul was controversial because it meant the departure of long-time principals Robert Bair and Karla Ash, who fostered academic success and stability. But board members said they wanted to elevate the school’s academic success to a higher level.
Before she joined Bromley East, Harrell spent seven years as chief academic officer of the American Academy Charter School in the Douglas County School District and was brought in under the hopes that she would give the school magnet status as they launched a Science Technology Math and Engineering (S.T.E.M) Curriculum.
The high hopes for Harrell’s new leadership left last week’s abrupt firing as a puzzling turn of events to many, but not to all.
One source familiar with the school characterized Harrell’s nearly two-year tenure as “a disaster,” fraught with staff turmoil and conflict as well as allegations of misspent money. The source said those ongoing administrative issues came to a head earlier last week when Sheldon stepped down from her position as assistant principal.
One school parent, who declined to be identified but attended Thursday’s meeting, said the issue goes beyond a debate of whether Harrell or Sheldon is a better leader for the school. The parent said it’s an issue of the school’s board of directors acting rashly and without transparency.
“The public is completely unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes,” the parent said. “I think the parents would like to know what is the truth behind all of this. It’s not a matter of do we absolve Harrell or do we support Sheldon. What transpired? What were the accusations? Did they have merit? Were they worth firing Harrell over?”
The aftermath of Thursday’s meeting left some parents considering a potential board recall attempt.
“If this is the way the board is going to act and not be transparent in their actions, then you need to go,” the parent said. “They’re not supposed to be there for the accumulation of power, but for the protection of our children.”
The school is in the midst of seeking nominees for three board seats. The terms of those existing board members expire May 31.
Those interested in serving as a director must submit a nominating petition containing 25 member signatures (parents or legal guardian of a child currently attending Bromley), printed names, addresses and phone numbers, on or before 4 p.m. March 15, in the school office, 356 Longspur Drive, Brighton.
By Kevin Denke and Emily Dougherty