Top rated principal retiring unless school board member backs off

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - One of Palm Beach County's top-rated principals says he's going ahead with plans 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 e-mails, intimidated teachers and threatened his supervisors.

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 -- making Smith 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 10 for academic achievement.

Parent April Milner is furious. "He treats every child like his own child."

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 says he's retiring unless she realizes her job is to set policy not enforce it.

Ms. Brown did not comment, despite repeated attempts to reach her.

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 who are upset and concerned with the meddling," said Smith.

Neither Brown nor board chair Chuck Shaw responded to requests for comment, but the superintendent's office said that it is aware of the issue and looking into it.

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