Just weeks after the West Platte Board of Education voted not to renew the contract of Superintendent Dr. Jerrod Wheeler, a new petition seeking to rally support around the embattled superintendent has begun circulation on Facebook.
District patron Kelly McNair launched the petition on Facebook last week, and the page has already garnered more than 100 supporters, with dozens of posts and hundreds of comments. McNair brought his concerns directly to the Board at its meeting on Jan. 21 — a meeting that was rescheduled from the Board’s regular date last week due to scheduling conflicts. With President John Collier absent and Vice President Donald Wilson presiding, the Board heard comments from several patrons and a student, with dozens of people in the audience. McNair told the Board he had two children in the District, and said “When I moved here eight years ago, people didn’t have a voice at this school.” McNair said that changed about three years ago when the District started hosting community steering committee meetings, and eventually the work of these committees led to the hire of Wheeler. He said within one and one-half years, Wheeler had dramatically changed the District for the better. “I’ve heard rumors that the Board will let Dr. Wheeler go before his contract expires,” he said. “He has a year and a half left — just imagine what he could accomplish in that time. If you vote to let him go, you need to ask yourselves if you are doing what is best for the students.” Before the meeting, Wheeler told The Citizen his response to the petition was much like his response to a similar petition that once called for his dismissal — that the most important thing in all of this is the welfare of the students. “It’s imperative that the Weston community unites around the students and the school and finds commonality in supporting our students and uniting the community,” Wheeler said. McNair directly addressed Wheeler during his comments. “You’ve already made this school better for our kids, and I hope and pray you’ll be here for a long time to come,” he said. Patron Corry Holmes — who filed for election to the Board himself on Jan. 21 — held up a small handheld chalkboard, noting that African students still learned on such old-fashioned slates. “I understand we live in a historic community, but let’s leave the chalkboards behind,” he said. Holmes said while he understands that not everyone will always agree on varying subjects, he sees that beyond the walls of the school the community is being torn apart and laughed at. “Despite all the politics, Dr. Wheeler continues to focus on the students, and if you doubt that, bring the kids back up here,” he said, referencing the students recognized for their classroom projects at the beginning of the meeting. He said Board members allowing personal agendas to govern their decisions was an abuse of power and suggested the students and teachers should have a voice in Wheeler’s fate. One of those students with a voice was Trevor Purdue, who said seven months prior he spoke to the Board about change and forgiveness. Now, he said he found himself back before the Board and disappointed with its actions and by the actions of members of the community. “Not once have the students been asked what they think of the changes, or maybe they have, but you ignore that input to continue with the politics,” Purdue said. “This feuding and bullying has got to stop.” One patron wasn’t there to sing Wheeler’s praises. Connie Fritzel asked for an explanation of the reasoning behind a new policy asking parents picking their children up from school to wait for other children to be loaded before exiting the lot. “Some of us have places to be and can’t wait around for five or 10 minutes,” she said. However, the origin of her complaint truly arose from a conversation she said he had with Wheeler months ago. Fritzel said she came to Wheeler to report a school bus was running a stop sign in front of her home and she was concerned with the safety of her children and other children in the area. “He called me a liar,” she said, and claimed Wheeler suggested she videotape the bus running the stop sign for proof. “You guys all need to listen to this,” she said, addressing the crowd. “Because all of you who support him need to know he doesn’t think my kids deserve a safe ride to school.” Wilson told Fritzel the Board would not engage with her on her statements, to which she responded the Board needed to listen to citizen complaints. After Wilson again reminded her of Board policy, she left the podium. “You cut me off,” she said to Wilson on her way past him to her seat. While the owner of new district bus service provider Apple Bus Company did not address her comments, he did have a comment to the Board about the situation. Mike Oyster said he served on the Board of Education for the Cass-Midway School District for 15 years. “What I see here as an outsider is great power,” Oyster said. “After being on a Board myself for so long I can tell you the worst thing that can happen is for nobody to attend the school board meetings. So many people are here because they care, and that’s a great opportunity and a great source of power for the district.”