By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY July 26, 2002 It took Jeffrey Root 30 years in Liberty to find the secret to White Sulphur Springs Elementary Schools success.
Its Lucy Smassanow, he said, and now shes looking at losing her job.
Root has been teaching in the Liberty district for 30 years, he told the board of education Monday night. The first 29 years were spent at the Liberty Elementary School on Main Street.
But last year he was transferred to the kindergarten program in White Sulphur, where Smassanow is principal.
And he found that, for all the order and camaraderie that goes on in the main street school, nothing can compare to White Sulphur.
I used to rub my arm on her, and shed ask, What are you doing? Root told the board. Id tell her, I wanna get some of that positive attitude you have.
Smassanow is an outstanding administrator, Root said, and she loves her job.
Its kind of like Joe Torre and the Yankees, he noted. Theyre not going to get rid of Derek Jeter because that would be a blunder.
More than 50 people piled in the doors of the Liberty Middle School Monday evening to speak their piece about Lucy Smassanow.
The principal, who has been with the Liberty district for 12 years (eight at the White Sulphur school), is facing a tenure fight with the board.
According to Dr. Phillip Olsen, president of the Liberty Board of Education, they are unable to discuss a personnel issue with the public. However, he noted, they will be discussing Smassanows tenure issue at the next board meeting on Aug. 12, at which time it will come up for a vote.
We do want to hear from the public, he said. And thats why we have this public forum.
According to Smassanow, Superintendent Dr. Brian Howard has asked the board of education not to give her tenure.
But, she said, she has tenure, and when she was transferred into an administration position for three years by Howard (as an assistant superintendent), she never resigned her tenure.
He has told me he will officially ask the board to terminate me as of July 31, Smassanow said. But my lawyer says I have tenure.
What this boils down to is a personality conflict, she said. Some people have asked me if its because we fought to keep the White Sulphur Springs school open, and Id hate to think that.
The district considered closing the primary school earlier in the year when they realized their budget was extremely tight and severe cuts would have to be made. But the board responded to residents who fought hard to keep the doors open, and the White Sulphur school was saved.
He [Howard] claims I didnt function as an effective member of the team to make hard cuts during budget time, Smassanow explained. But I did make tough cuts and tough choices.
To me, a primary school is the foundation of every childs education, and you need to build up that foundation, she added. My White Sulphur Springs staff is amazing.
Smassanow was amazed by the show of support from her community, as well. The folks walking into the board meeting, stopping to hug Lucy or shake the hand of her husband Lee, were from every walk of life. There were colleagues of Smassanow from the Liberty district and others throughout the county, there were former students and parents of White Sulphur Springs youngsters. There were neighbors and friends from the Liberty district as well as Fallsburg, where the Smassanows live.
This is amazing, Smassanow said. I didnt do this they did this.
And they did it because Smassanow is vital to the district, many said.
Larina Hendersons son Harold is headed to kindergarten this year. And she knows he wouldnt have gotten there without Smassanow.
He was in special ed. last year, and hes going into regular kindergarten this year to get ready for first grade, Henderson explained. Its not just his teachers who were wonderful Lucy keeps tabs on each of the kids.
When Harold was out sick for three days in succession, Henderson got a personal call from Smassanow.
A principal doesnt do that, she said. A teacher might, or a secretary, but a principal doesnt do that.
The most important thing about Lucy is that its not a fake caring, Henderson continued. Its not just, This is my job and they pay me to do this.
She has the school in sync.
Tim Hamblin, head of the districts faculty association, defended Smassanows place in the school system as well and questioned the entire tenure system.
This year alone we had more than half a dozen teachers denied tenure, Hamblin said. Its evident that many of our teachers that youre getting rid of are being scooped up by other districts in the county.
And, he added, a survey done district-wide to measure administrators success in the schools came back with high marks for Smassanow.
Her staff sent back a 98 percent approval rating, the highest of any principal in Liberty.
Ive worked for several administrators, said Mike Stahl, a kindergarten teacher at White Sulphur. I think by far shes the best one yet.
Other parents stood up to echo Hendersons praises of the school administrator.
Trish McNamara knows her sons panic disorder keeps him from reacting well with adults at times. But hes never afraid to stop by Lucys office and show off his artwork to earn one of the principals stickers.
As a child growing up, McNamara always thought the principal was someone to be feared at a school.
But theyre not afraid of Lucy, she said. They want Lucy to come into their classroom; they want to eat lunch with Lucy.
To see Lucy in a store thats even better than one of her stickers, she told the board of education.
Besides, McNamara added looking pointedly at Howard who has been superintendent for the past five years Lucy has roots here: she owns a house here, shes not going anywhere.
Linda Thompson, president of the PTA, spoke on Smassanows behalf as well. Though she qualified her statements as being personal opinion, not that of the associations, Thompson said many parents in the district are upset by the tenure proceedings.
In talking with Lucy Smassanow, shes always been very professional. She knows her job, shes well educated and Ive never seen any problems with her, Thompson stated, asking that the board disclose to the public what will be happening with Smassanow.
The board declined to comment.