‘Community ‘ripped’ apart by pending loss of principal and missing superintendent: Lake board quiet through criticism

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At the start of Thursday evening’s Lake Forest School Board meeting, held at W.T. Chipman Middle School, School Board President Danny Aguilar addresses the crowd gathered in the school’s cafeteria. (The Journal/Logan B. Anderson)

HARRINGTON – Though the Lake Forest School Board’s April 23 meeting literally started with cheers, it was mostly filled by jeers directed at the leaders of the Felton-based school district.

Many people from the Lake Forest community came to the meeting seeking answers from the board. They demanded the district leaders share their reasons for not renewing Lake Forest East Elementary School Principal Susan M. Piavis’ contract, they wanted to know where their Superintendent, Dr. Jason Conway, was and to know exactly who was in charge.

The Lake Forest School Board meeting, held at W.T. Chipman Middle School in Harrington, began in the school’s cafeteria with the board recognizing the accomplishments of two middle school student groups; the FFA and the cheerleading squad. Each brought home impressive awards from recent competitions. After the awards were handed out and congratulations given, the cheerleaders showed off their award-winning skills.

The Lake Forest School Board may have been inspired by the energy their cheerleaders showed during the routine because then they went on the move. They got up and went to a room adjacent to the cafeteria where the meeting started to continue their agenda.

Danny Aguilar, school board president, recognized that many members of the audience in the cafeteria were there to address the board during the public comment portion of the meeting. He invited those people to stay in the cafeteria because the board planned to come back. About 50 minutes later, they did come back before leaving again.

While in the cafeteria for the second time, the board was questioned about recent personnel decisions. In December, the board voted not to renew Lake Forest East Elementary School Principal Susan M. Piavis’ contract.

“You have ripped this community apart,” Reginald D. Millner, father of a Lake Forest East student, told the board of education Thursday evening. “When I needed someone to talk to Mrs. Piavis was there. If you want to get rid of her for her track record, get rid of her for that. Does somebody have a personal vendetta? That is all I can think of.”

“You are going to go back home and back to your lives, what about our children? What is going to happen to them? What is the reason,” Mr. Millner added.

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The board of education left the cafeteria to continue its meeting in a room next door. The audience wishing to address the board was invited to wait until the board returned. Many did.

Janet White, town clerk/treasurer for the town of Frederica, stood and gave her support for Mrs. Piavis saying that the town and the elementary school’s administration had a good working relationship.

A representative of the Frederica Fire Company, a teacher at Lake Forest East, a grandmother of a students there, and a few mothers joined their voices to the chorus of people asking the board for answers about the future of their principal.

“I know this is not going to be an answer that you want to hear, but this is a personnel issue. It is something that we are just not able to speak publically about. Rest assured, I have lived in Frederica for 20 years. I respect everything that you say,” Board President Aguilar said. “I know you are looking for answers we just can’t discuss the details of it.”

No one stood up to support the board’s decision to not renew Mrs. Piavis’ contract.

Linda Chick, local business leader and supporter of the Lake Forest Community Education Fund, stood to ask where Superintendent Conway was.

“There have been so many rumors around the community. There hasn’t been anything in the newspaper, on the website or Facebook. I hope that there is information forthcoming. It doesn’t look good for the school board for the way this appears this is being conducted or for Dr. Conway. It puts a cloud over everybody. I hope that we will get some answers,” Mrs. Chick said.

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When the board finally returned to the cafeteria for the public comment portion of the April 23 meeting, they fielded many questions and complaints about recent personnel choices. Pictured, Reginald D. Millner addresses the board.

Melinda Troutman, mother and member of the Lake Forest East Elementary School’s parent teacher organization, echoed Mrs. Chick’s concern about the district’s apparent lack of communication. She then asked, “Who is in charge.”

Mr. Aguilar replied by explaining that the district communicates with its website – www.lf.k12.de.us – and anyone looking for information about the school board should go to the website and read the minutes of their previous meetings.

He then explained that while Dr. Conway is not around, Christine daCosta, district business manager, was in charge of operations for the district; Dr. Brenda Wynder, curriculum administrator, was in charge of education and that Dr. Tammy Croce, personnel director, was in charge of human resources.

He added that the board would add the administration chart to the district’s website.

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After the public comment portion of the meeting, the board again paused and reconvened to a room next to the cafeteria. Pictured from left are James L. Rau, Andrea M. Miller, Board President Danny Aguilar, Business Manager Christine daCosta, Ronda Swenson, and Board Vice President John A. Schulties.

After the public comments were done, the board again got up and went back into the room adjacent to the cafeteria. A few of the audience members followed but most went home. When the meeting reconvened, the board continued with its printed and posted agenda which included a report from Mr. Aguilar and Dr. Conway. Mr. Aguilar said was going to skip his report because, “you have heard enough from me already.” And skipped over Dr. Conway’s report as if it wasn’t on the agenda.

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