SOLON– Dozens of parents and students paced through Solon High School’s darkened cafeteria, eyes peeled through the library windows to watch a dear friend fight for her job. They anxiously waited for the closed session to open, and the theatrics to cease. Most everyone that night was there for one reason, Kim Blankenheim.
“The biggest reason [to attend] was to support [Blankenheim],” said former board member, Tim Brown. “Kim has always been there for the kids in the district– she’s that friendly face. My sister is a teacher down in Norwalk and the example she gave was ‘when the principal’s gone for the day, no one in the building really notices, but the secretary’s gone and the whole school falls apart.”
Blankenheim was allegedly terminated from her position last Tuesday as high school secretary– one day after making public comments at a school board meeting focused on the outcome of standards-based (SBG) grading in Solon. Board officials at the deciding meeting Monday night were unable to reach a majority vote on the issue, ultimately allowing Blankenheim to keep her job.
The administration’s initial decision to terminate Blankenheim left many feeling distrust towards the district’s current administration, and some students even said they were afraid to speak out. This did not stop one group of Solon students, ranging in ages from middle school to high school, who banded together to attend to the meeting donning handmade signs in protest of Blankenheim’s firing.
“It sends a negative message to students and parents about speaking your mind to the board,” said Solon junior Mike Roy. “They’re afraid to talk for fear of retaliation.”
During the previous school board meeting on June 3, many Solon community members spoke out against the administration’s implementation of Standards-Based Grading (SBG). In a similar start to Monday night’s board meeting, parents gave public comments on the issue of SBG. It became apparent rather quickly, however, that this week was a completely different beast. When school board president David Asprey looked out into the crowd and asked if the next speaker’s comments were on the topic of SBG, she promptly responded, “No, I’m here for Kim.” Then, a slew of listeners turned heads to face Blankenheim, sitting with her attorney in the middle row, alongside the library bookcases.
The administration was taking some heat from the public, which seemed to have a tinge more fire to their speech than in the previous week. This week, community members were not only asking questions– parents and students seemed in agreement over administrative negligence surrounding the timing of its actions.
“[SBG] was just implemented too fast,” said concerned parent, Shelly Prybil.
Gene Holtorf expressed a complete distrust in the current administration, and again cited a speech given by Solon High School teacher, Sean Cornally, which referred to SBG as “the gateway drug to awesome.”
“The incompetence of implementing such an undertaking without clear objectives and goals for teachers and students is a poor reflection on this current administration,” said Holtorf.
The request for the termination of an employee was the next item on the agenda, but there was no inclination that the meeting would continue into the wee-hours of the night– finally ending around 11:30 p.m. Before entering closed session, many voiced their backing and appreciation of Blankenheim.
“Every once in a while in life, someone comes along in life who is able to put their own self interests aside for the interests of others. I believe Kim Blankenheim is one of those people,” said Melinda Green.
Still others, who do not personally know Blankenheim, stood up in her defense because of the impact she’s had on the kids.
“I don’t know [Blankenheim] outside of school at all. We don’t pal around, we’re not friends,” said Karen Ryland. “But here at school, she’s the one who’s here when I’m not here. If I need to know what’s going on, I call up. She’s knows the name of my kids, she knows where they are, she knows where I work, where my husband works— she knows how to find out whatever, right away.”
After the public commentary, the board voted to enter a closed session to discuss in private the administration’s proposed termination of Blankenheim. An administration’s request for termination, once opposed, must be approved by members of the board with three-quarters vote. In attendance at Monday night’s meeting were Dave Asprey, Lianne Westcot, Dan Coons, and Dick Schwab. Not present was board member Dean Martin.
Members of the public were asked to wait outside in the commons, while each side presented its case. The administration, Nathan Wear and Sam Miller, were seated at one table, while Blankenheim and her attorney were seated at another– each facing the board members.
Some gathered along the windows to witness the court-like proceedings inside the library. Others clung tight to each other, passing time with a mixture of light-hearted group conversation and further discussion of hard topics concerning the schools.
As the sun began to fade and the fluorescent bulbs lit the space, those loyal to Blankenheim were still nervously waiting and watching for signs of a conclusion. Pacing, chatting, and munching on chocolates– no one knew it would take so long, and no one knew when it would end.
When both groups stood up and took for the library exit, many believed it was over. Blankenheim was greeted with applause, but quickly learned the board was in deliberation on the issue. For another hour, parents, administration, and students anticipated the board’s decision.
The numbers of supporters began to dwindle as the night went on, but a sigh of relief was palpable when board members finally opened the doors. When the public was invited back in, Mr. Asprey explained there was a 2-2 stalemate on the matter, which by default, means Blankenheim must be retained in her position at school.
Blankenheim declined speaking to the Solon Economist Monday night, but superintendent Miller was able to confirm that Blankenheim is currently an employee with Solon schools. He said he was unable to comment on the widely discussed rumor that Blankenheim had been dismissed in retaliation for her views of SBG, made public during the June 3 meeting.
“The district will not comment specifically on confidential personnel matters. However, the district can state that it investigates and reviews all personnel matters thoroughly and takes seriously its commitment to providing staff and students with an efficient, effective and pleasant educational environment from which to work and learn,” Miller said in a prepared statement.
The process had an emotional ending for Blankenheim. As she exited Solon high school late Monday night, she broke into tears and supporters gathered around in attempt to quell the frustration.
She kept her job, but some feel enough damage has already been done to maintain distrust in the administration. Tina Gossman, a mother of two students in the district was one who shared that belief.
“It’s just a little too little too late,” she said with a shrug. “The concerns were there already there.”