Published Online: April 2, 1997

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Board's Ouster of Principal Sparks Furor in Ohio

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A rural southeastern Ohio community has been in an uproar ever since its school board decided not to rehire the principal of its only high school.

The Federal Hocking school board voted last month not to renew the contract of George Wood, the principal of the 390-student Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio.

The board's 3-2 vote has sparked a community organizing effort and a student walkout in support of Mr. Wood, whose contract expires June 30.

Further frustrating the residents, board members have not provided a reason for their action. Jeff Koehler, the board's president and spokesman, said in an interview last week that he was unable to talk about the matter under the advice of a lawyer.

Some community members have started investigating ways to rescind the board's motion. Nonetheless, schools Superintendent William White, who supports Mr. Wood, said that Mr. Koehler has instructed him to list the principal's position as a vacancy.

Mr. White said he thought that "morally and ethically" the board members owe Mr. Wood an explanation for the ouster. The high school students also deserve some kind of response from the board, said the superintendent, who credited them for exercising restraint in their protest. "I don't know how long I can keep a cap on this whole bit without it exploding," he added.

Mr. Wood, who has served as principal since 1992, gave up a full-time, tenured position at Ohio University in Athens in order to take the position. The author of Schools That Work: America's Most Innovative Public Education Programs, he attracted widespread attention when he signed on to work in the primarily low-income school district and began making changes in the way the school was run. ("Professor Practices What He Preaches As a 'Go for It' Principal of Rural Ohio School," Dec. 16, 1992.)

Talking and Doing

Nearly 400 community members attended the March 20 meeting in which the board voted on Mr. Wood's contract, including several students who spoke out in his favor. The next morning, roughly three-fourths of the high school's student body walked out of class for about 30 minutes to protest the outcome.

Erin Carroll, a senior at Federal Hocking High and one of the student organizers, said last week that students' attempts to meet with board members had so far been unsuccessful.

"There were a lot of students who were very upset by the board's decision," she said. "We felt like they overlooked a lot of good things he'd done."

Mr. Wood said in an interview last week that he had shifted the schedule from an eight-period to a four-period day, eliminated study halls, implemented a core curriculum, and created an internship program.

"We school reformers talk a lot about what other people ought to do, but we don't do a lot of it ourselves," said Mr. Wood. "I love being principal of Federal Hocking High School. It's the best thing I've ever done, and I want to continue being principal."

Mr. Wood added that he is exploring his options with a lawyer.

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