Hank Smith, South Olive Elementary principal, reassigned after feud with board member

Will return to South Olive Thursday

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- One of Palm Beach County's top-rated principals was temporarily reassigned after threatening to retire unless one of the Palm Beach County school board members backs off.

Hank Smith of South Olive Elementary in West Palm Beach says board member Jennifer Brown has read internal emails, intimidated teachers and threatened his supervisors.

According to school district spokesperson Nat Harrington, "District officials are reviewing the situation at South Olive Elementary School. Principal Hank Smith has been temporarily reassigned during the review."

At a school district meeting Wednesday evening Brown said she couldn't comment. "I wish I could, I've been directed by the chief of human resources and the superintendent not to make a comments so, once it's over I'll be happy to talk with you, but I can't right now."

Wednesday evening it appeared the district reversed course and a spokesman released a statement which read, "Mr. Smith will be returning to school tomorrow, Thursday. Please note that the one-day reassignment of Mr. Smith was not punitive."

The superintendent also released a statement which said in part, "Obviously this has been a challenging situation, and we're all doing our best to resolve it as soon as possible so we can again turn our total focus to full cooperation and collaboration for the benefit of the students... So, it's my belief that the South Olive situation will be resolved very soon to everyone's satisfaction." (Read the text of the letter below)

Parents showed up Wednesday afternoon outside of the school to support Smith. An airplane also pulled a banner which read: "We support Hank and our teachers." It wasn't immediately clear who paid for the banner.

South Olive recently had the highest FCAT score in the whole county, it's the seventh best school in the state and teachers have given him an A grade, one of only eight principals countywide to be graded so highly.

"I love being a principal because I enjoy kids, I enjoy accomplishment, I am a teacher of teachers," said Smith.

He says he's the only principal in Florida to have a Title I school, one where students are characterized as disadvantaged, that is ranked in the top ten for academic achievement.

Parent April Milner is furious.

"He treats every child like his own child," he says.

Two of Brown's children attend South Olive.

"The problem is when school board members will not stay within their statutory authority, which is as a member of the legislative branch, but instead want to become little superintendents," said Smith.

Smith said he'd retire unless she realizes her job is to set policy, not enforce it.

Principal Smith says the only way he won't retire is if his boss, Superintendent Wayne Gent, assures him that Brown will be told to stay out of the school's affairs.

He warns there are other principals with a foot out the door unless they also get similar assurances.

"I know that for a fact that there are many of my colleagues are upset and concerned with the meddling," said Smith.

NewsChannel 5's Marissa Bagg and Evan Axelbank contributed to this report

 Superintendent's Letter:

Obviously this has been a challenging situation, and we're all doing our best to resolve it as soon as possible so we can again turn our total focus to full cooperation and collaboration for the benefit of the students.

From my vantage point, I believe that everyone is doing what they feel is best for kids, for the school, the district and the community. It's just that from time to time, well-meaning professionals can and do disagree about some things. When that happens, we all work through it and resolve it as quickly and amicably as we can. We all want the same thing.

That's what's going on here.

It's obvious that South Olive is a high-performing, well- run  school. That is attributable to every group with the  district- students, teachers, the principal, administrators, staff, parents, volunteers, and the Board - all doing great work.

That's who we are, and that's who we will always be.  

So, it's my belief that the South Olive situation will be resolved very soon to everyone's satisfaction.

Meanwhile, I expect everyone to do their jobs as best they can within their roles, and we will continue to see a great school with great students, teachers, parents , staff and the Board.

I want to thank everyone for their understanding and their support.



Wayne Gent,
Superintendent

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