Grosse Pointe FarmsJuly 25, 2012
Big leadership changes in works for South music program
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
GROSSE POINTE FARMS — South music students will kick off the year with new band and choir directors after the district made some tough personnel decisions.
The district sent out a couple of press releases and a letter last week that spelled out some of the decisions and changes with those positions.
Steve Cross, teacher and band director at Pierce Middle School and South High School, was let go in June, and South choir teacher and director Ellen Bowen was placed on administrative leave in June with plans to go through the process toward seeking to terminate her employment.
“The administration and the GPPSS Board of Education remain committed to providing an environment conducive to educational excellence within the parameters of quality opportunities for all students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System,” the district stated in the press release about Bowen.
Cross was let go after concerns were raised about a letter he sent to parents. He would have gained tenure at the end of June, so the district had a short period of time to act before a lengthy tenure process would be required. The district worked with legal counsel on this matter, according to its press release.
“This letter, addressed to the band parents at South and Pierce, contained inaccurate statements, advocated for changes to his personal schedule, indicated that he would no longer perform some of his duties and related activities in the future, and encouraged parents to contact administration,” the district stated in the press release from last week.
The district stated it was releasing the press release to clear up some misinformation they believe is circulating on social media and through other means.
Supporters of Cross reached out to the school board after the firing during a meeting in late June.
“We do believe that Mr. Cross’s work and dedication and accomplishments deserve some weight in any consideration about the position,” said band student Claire Morrison at the late June meeting.
She spelled out some of the positive changes that had occurred under Cross in the last couple of years.
“He’s provided new performance opportunities for the jazz bands at both South and Pierce, and both bands have improved greatly, and he’s spent so much more time with the bands than what was required of him,” Morrison said.
She raised concerns about the transition to a new director when band begins before the official school year starts. She also raised concerns about heading into her senior year as a band officer with the confusion of starting the new school year with a new director.
Bowen is tenured, so the process is different for her possible removal. She has created an award-winning program at the school and has also had a number of supporters over the years.
Bowen is facing termination for allegedly hitting a student with his cellphone. There were no criminal charges filed against Bowen — the student’s parents decided against filing charges — and she hasn’t openly spoken with the media since the allegations were brought against her toward the end of the last school year.
The district issued a press release on her removal on July 16 and a letter to choir parents and stakeholders on July 18 that explained that the district would be advertising for a new choir director for the fall.
The letter spelled out what they were looking for in a new director. The posting was scheduled to be up until the end of this week, with selection starting next week.
“As part of this process, we will be including a sample of administrators, current music faculty, parents and students at appropriate junctures,” District Deputy Superintendent for Educational Services Jon Dean stated in the letter. “While I recognize that the recent challenges regarding the removal of the previous director have been difficult for everyone, I believe that this selection process can be a positive step forward that will provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to embrace the new leader for our South vocal music program.”
The press release explained the current status of Bowen’s position, including that the altercation with the student was one of “an ongoing documented history of inappropriate statements and actions towards students and staff.”
Bowen remains on paid leave during the tenure process. The district is taking the next steps in the process, which is written charges with the Board of Education.
When those charges are drafted with the help of district counsel, they will be brought forth during a meeting. However, it could be several weeks before that happens, according to the press release.
If the board does officially dismiss Bowen, Bowen can ask for a formal judicial hearing through the Michigan Tenure Commission, the press release stated.
The superintendent is taking these steps “due to past concerns regarding a pattern of behavior toward students and fellow staff members that has resulted in previous disciplinary action with Ms. Bowen,” the release stated.
Some choir boosters and parents were hoping for a resolution that would keep Bowen in place for another year so that a smooth transition to a new director could be sought. Some of those parents raised concerns in a letter to the media a couple of weeks ago, prior to the district’s press release and letter to parents.
“We are justifiably concerned that with its recent actions the (school board) is systematically dismembering the performing arts programs at South High School,” the letter stated.
“As (choir boosters), we support the (choir program) that Ellen Bowen has created and fervently hope the (school board) agrees to adopt the transition plan,” they stated in the letter.
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