Cullman Middle School Principal Lane Hill is shown in June 2017. (Cullman Tribune file photo)
CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman City School Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night not to renew Cullman Middle School Principal Lane Hill's contract at this end of this school year. More than 30 teachers and parents showed up to support or speak on behalf of Hill. The response to the vote was loud and emotional, with audible gasps and intense disapproval voiced from those in attendance.
Board President Jason Neal and Board Member Suzanne Harbin voted to renew Hill's contract. Board Members Joey Orr, Lee Powell and Chris Branham voted not to renew.
Prior to the vote, Kim Canaday addressed the board on behalf of the school’s teachers in attendance.
Canaday, who has taught at Cullman Middle School for 24 years, began, “I’ve always had great respect for the school board and with that said I hope and pray you will consider what we have to say. I feel that the number one priority of everyone in this room is the academic success of our students and providing that in the safest environment that we can. I feel that at the middle school we have been able to do this primarily because Mr. Hill has provided a learning environment that is conducive for that, because instead of dealing with issues, we are able to actually teach.”
Canaday reminded the board that Cullman Middle School recently received a score of 96 on its annual state report card, the highest score of all the schools in the city school system and one of the highest in the state of Alabama.
She attributed the high achievement scores to the leadership of Hill, continuing, “You have to look at what are the factors that attribute to that. I do believe that discipline is a big part of it, and consequences. I laugh and tell Mr. Hill that he’s old school, which I am too, but old school isn’t always appreciated in our society today, but I truly feel it’s one of the most effective teaching tools because if you do not have control of your classroom, then you are going to be dealing with discipline problems the whole time. That is going to directly impact the students’ ability to learn.”
In conclusion, Canaday said, “Mr. Hill, without a doubt, has been the most supportive principal, but not just to the teachers. I think truly his priority is the academic success of every student at our school. I think it’s obvious by all the people that have come tonight to show their support for him that it’s certainly not a question of teacher support or teacher morale. So, if academics and support of your teachers are not two of the most important things, then what should be considered?”
The room erupted in applause from the assembled teachers, while the board sat silently and said nothing in response. Instead, it immediately began the approval of the list of agenda items. The last agenda item was the vote regarding Principal Hill’s contract. There was no discussion as board members Orr, Powell and Branham voted not to renew the contract. Neal and Harbin opposed the recommendation.
The room sat stunned as Superintendent Dr. Susan Patterson asked for a motion to adjourn. Several in the room let their grievances be known immediately while others sat crying. As soon as the meeting was adjourned, the board members who voted not to renew the contract left quickly through the back door leaving Patterson, Neal and Harbin to face the noticeably dismayed crowd.
Hill, who was in attendance, attempted to calm his supporters saying, “I love you, appreciate you and your being here. You don’t know how much it means to me that y’all are here. But, tomorrow is a new day for Cullman Middle School. I want you to make this the best end of the school year we’ve ever had.”
Several teachers and other supporters did address Patterson at the conclusion of the meeting.
Hill then thanked Neal and Harbin for their support. There was some confusion as to whether Hill’s contract would officially end on the last day of school or in June.
Patterson did not give an official statement but said she would issue a statement soon.
Neal said of Hill, “I appreciate his service to this system. He’s done a phenomenal job.”
Neither Neal or Harbin provided a specific explanation for the board’s decision other than suggesting the board opted for a new direction.
Hill continued to comfort his staff as everyone slowly left.
Despite the board’s decision, Hill said, “I don’t have any regrets about any of the way the middle school has been run over the past 11 years. It’s a great faculty and a great bunch of students. It’s been an honor to serve them. I leave with no regrets.”
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