By Carl Fish
Lake Wales, Florida – The Lake Wales community has been in turmoil for half a year after some controversial handling of the Lake Wales Charter School Superintendent search and the rescinding of a resignation by current Lake Wales Charter School Principal Donna Dunson. A rescinding that was not accepted by interim superintendent Alricky Smith. Also in just the past couple of weeks the arrest of Lake Wales Charter School Board member Marcus Kirby has further brought a spotlight on the charter system.
Last April, the Lake Wales High School Advisory Council made it clear, in its last meeting of the year, that it wished Alricky Smith, Board Chairman Danny Gill & the rest of the Lake Wales Charter School Board would like to have Principal Donna Dunson retained. Those pleas fell on deaf ears. During last month’s meeting 8 out of 10 speakers came to the podium in support of LWHS Principal Donna Dunson. Those pleas also fell on deaf ears with no comment from Board Chairman Danny Gill and very little comments by board members. The response has been that the charter school administration and board, bereft of an actual Human Resources Coordinator, was following policy and procedures in not allowing Principal Dunson to return for one more year. Unfortunately no bylaws appeared to address the rescinding of resignation or the process in which to bring back Principal Dunson. The only bylaw that appears to have been broken was new superintendent to be, official start date July 1, has no authority to guarantee principal employment as that is the sole responsibility of the board. However, his recommendation is essential in that process. It had come to the attention of Daily Ridge that email correspondence had been sent by LWCS Board Chair Danny Gill to Dr. Rodolfich regarding the matter. That email correspondence prompted some LWHS School Advisory Council members to label chairman Gills email as bullying, threatening or at the very least overstepping his authority.
New email correspondence has come to light that further shows what transpired on April 8, 2022, the day Daily Ridge published its first article reference the above issues. As a matter of fact the following email was sent by board chairman Gill to Dr. Rodolfich merely 45 minutes after Daily Ridge ran this article.
Many including board members have said that all the facts are not available for people to make a proper assessment of the situation. “There’s is a lot of miss information out there” said board member Paul Gerrard. Who himself had advised he was not returning to his board seat, but changed his mind and is now staying.
In an effort to get facts out to the public here is email correspondence between chairman Gill and Dr. Rodolfich. We believe the emails speak clearly for themselves:
“On Fri, Apr 8, 2022 at 10:55 AM Gill, Danny <[email protected]> wrote:
Good Morning Dr. Rodolfich,
Following the public announcement made yesterday by you and Ms. Dunson, we had some conversations about proper protocol and the inability for you to be able to make public comments or personnel decisions until you take office July 1st. We discussed the proper ways to handle your request and this could have been averted with good communication between you, the current Superintendent and the Board. The decisions you made yesterday without conferring with the current superintendent and the Board has created a firestorm in our community. If you wanted to bring Ms. Dunson back, it could have been handled in a professional manner with open dialog. Superintendent Smith, myself and the Board are taking the heat from your decision and the blame has been put on the Board for an action that they were not involved with. I asked you yesterday to figure out a way to reel this back and hopefully in a way that was calming to the community. I am asking you to be the strong leader that we expect and hired to take ownership of this mishap and publicly announce your misunderstanding of the protocol, policies and procedures along with you not being in the position until July 1, 2022. I would expect you to absolve the Board , Superintendent Smith, and myself of any wrongdoing. I need this handled before the close of business today.
Chair, Board of Trustees
Lake Wales Charter Schools”
The following is Dr. Rodolfich’s response to chairman Gill:
“On Fri, Apr 8, 2022 at 3:21 PM Rodolfich, Wayne <[email protected]> wrote:
First I would like to say that my family and I drove from Gautier, MS to Lake Wales, FL on Wednesday, April 6. We left Gautier around 12 noon and arrived at our AirBnB about 12 midnight. I was very excited about the schedule that I had planned and which was sent to the Board on Friday, April 1. This marks the second trip within 2 weeks for my family and I to Lake Wales. Both trips have been made with the best of intentions to help facilitate a seamless transition, learn the physical structures of campuses, and evaluate campus needs. I do not want to hesitate to begin building relationships with principals, teachers, and community members. Both of these trips were made at my own expense without any desire or expectation to be compensated for my additional time and efforts. I am a worker.
On Thursday, April 7, I visited 5 schools and had an afternoon meeting with Ms. Collins.
On Friday, April 8, I visited the Charter Office to talk about strategic planning in order to better inform the Board of the needs of campuses. I then visited Hillcrest and Polk Ave. Elementary schools. I then attended a celebration of Lake Wales youth leaders at the Lake Wales Arts Center as a guest of Rob Quam. I was warmly greeted by the Chamber Director and was asked to speak in June at the Chamber’s Power Luncheon. The speaker at the most recent Power Luncheon was Sheriff Grady Judd.
I received a warm welcome on every campus, and I can’t tell you how many times people expressed their optimism and excitement about the future. I saw a lot of good things going on in our schools.
My children also visited Dale R. Fair Babson Park Elementary where Ms. Tyler was kind enough to give them a tour while we registered them for next school year, and they also took academic screeners on which they did very well.
I would like to draw your attention to the highlighted sections of the email that I sent on Friday, April 1.
I provided you with my itinerary for these past two days and also noted my intent to have Ms. Donna Dunson remain as the Lake Wales High School principal.
Additionally, on Friday, April 1, I spoke with 3 board members separately and individually on the phone: Mr. Danny Gill, Mr. Marcus Kirby, and Mr. Rusty Ingley. During those phone calls, I expressed my intent to keep Donna Dunson as the high school principal. Only one of those board members expressed any misgivings, but he ended our conversation with, “But that decision is up to you.”
I think these two attempts, both in writing to the entire Board and to the individual board members via phone, clearly communicated my intent without any ambiguity. I have no record of a response from any board member regarding my April 1 email.
I apologize that I misinterpreted the lack of response to that email as there being no issue with my decision to bring Ms. Dunson back. I was told after I was selected as Superintendent and signed my contract that I would be fully supported. With that being said, I apologize for making the announcement about Ms. Dunson returning as the high school principal. I also apologize that I did not formally contact Mr. Alricky Smith, Interim Superintendent with my decision to bring Ms. Dunson back.
In regards to miscommunication, you noted my “inability…to make public comments or personnel decisions until [I] take office July 1st.” I apologize for not understanding this fully because on my last visit to Lake Wales (when I and my family drove down during our Spring Break), I met with you, Mr. Alricky Smith, and Dr. Julio Acevedo at separate times and discussed the open Director of Human Resources position. I was given the resumes of all applicants for that position, and I then provided a list of recommendations for interviews to both Mr. Smith and Dr. Acevedo, and I asked them to create a committee to interview these applicants and make a decision to present to the Board at the April 26, 2022 Board meeting. I now have clarity based on your email today that personnel decisions are not in my purview until July 1.
Since I do not have the ability to make public comments until July 1 and want to ensure that I am following the policies as I now understand them, I would like to communicate clearly and seek approval for the following requested public statement as directed by the Board Chair:
“Dear Parents, Students, and Educators of the Lake Wales Charter School System,
I am communicating about my announcement yesterday at a Lake Wales High School faculty meeting of my intent to retain Donna Dunson as the LWHS principal. This meeting was part of my 7 school tour over the last 2 days to meet with principals and teachers. At the time of the announcement, I was not aware that Ms. Dunson had submitted her resignation earlier this school year nor that her resignation had been acted on and accepted by the Board. I did not contact Acting Superintendent Alricky Smith, nor did I formally request a discussion with the Board prior to making the announcement. Additionally, the process for applications for the LWHS principal position had been opened and closed. I am publicly acknowledging my misunderstanding of the policies and my inability to make such decisions before my contract begins on July 1, 2022.”
I await your feedback as well as your direction as to where/what media outlet I should make this public statement.
Dr. Wayne Rodolfich”