By Carl Fish
Lake Wales, Florida – On Tuesday night the Lake Wales Charter School convened it’s regularly scheduled board meeting. Many topics were on the agenda, however, retaining the high school principal wasn’t one of them. During the meeting an opportunity was given, per Roberts Rules of Order, for the public to speak. There were 10 speakers allowed. One of those speakers was LWHS freshman Ally Donley (her full speech to the board is below). She tried to reason with interim superintendent and the board into retaining Donna Dunson for one more year. Tearfully Ally stated “I don’t understand the rules all of you are arguing back and forth about, but I do understand how me and my friends feel about Ms. Dunson. I wish she would stay the next 3 years until I graduate, but I know she can’t. I also know that you grown ups can stop arguing about what is right and wrong and listen to what us students want. We want her to be here one more year. Please give her a chance to help us to get to know the new principal. Please show us kids what it means to be mature.”
The issue is, during a tumultuous time last year LWHS Principal Donna Dunson resigned as principal after 20/21 school year with her last day being 6/30/2022. This resignation came in August of 2021. However, after meeting Dr. Rodolfich (the new LWCS superintendent) having several discussions with him, and at the prompting from Dr. Rodolfich she had a change of heart. Dr. Rodolfich notified the board by email of his desire on April 1, 2022. Several days later Dr. Rodolfich advised the teachers at Lake Wales High School that he wanted Principal Dunson to stay onboard. After Principal Dunson Dunson sent an email to the LWCS administration she and Dr. Rodolfich we’re advised that due to policy and procedure her rescinding of her resignation could not be done. It also was learned that Dr. Rodolfich nor interim superintendent Smith could guarantee employment. This is clearly written out in the charter bylaws that the board only can confirm employment on a year to year basis for the Principal Position. The superintendent has the right to suggest her as a candidate. However, in an email Danny Gill, board chairman, informed Dr. Rodolfich (in an email LINK) that Principal Dunson would no longer be on staff as of June 30, 2022. He also advised Dr. Rodolfich that he felt the board has moved on “I believe the board is ready to move in a new direction and a clean start will help you to be the successful superintendent we need.” Dr. Rodolfich will not be coming onboard until July 1, 2022. In an email to the media Dr. Rodolfich realized his error and walked back those statements (LINK to that article). “I am publicly acknowledging my misunderstanding of the policies and my inability to make such decisions before my contract begins on July 1, 2022” said Dr. Rodolfich.
Several items have parents, LWHS Staff and community leaders disturbed. The administration says Dr. Rodolfich has no say so on Principal Dunson staying until he is an employee, yet they have given him an email address, let him tour and speak to schools and asked him to choose candidates from a pool of candidates that applied for the principal job over 120 days ago. Parents are also upset that interim superintendent won’t allow Principal Dunson to rescind her request to resign outright. He has pointed to policy and procedures, but we cannot find anything in the bylaws to prohibit this action. Additionally Interim Superintendent Smith advised that there is a path forward for Ms. Dunson to remain the principal, but it will require Dr. Rodolfich to again recommend keeping Principal Dunson, this time officially and open up the whole process again. However after the email from Chairman Gill it would appear to not be in Dr. Rodolfich’s best interest to do so.
One board member, Lori Hutto, asked if she could make a motion to suspend the search for a new principal and retain Principal Dunson for another year. That request was not acknowledged nor advisement on proper procedures of such a request wasn’t addressed by Chairman Gill.
Parents have vowed to continue to ask the board to directly address why they will not entertain the idea of Principal Dunson for an additional year. Her personal file is clear of any reprimands or written disciplinary in over 17 years from her time at Polk Avenue, originating Bok Academy or as Lake Wales High School Principal. Principal Dunson has take the high school from estimated 65% graduation rate to over an estimated 95% graduation rate.
Editors note: This is the first part of a multiple part series of articles regarding the Lake Wales Charter School Board.