EFFINGHAM — Effingham Unit 40 school board this week voted 4-3 to reassign Effingham Junior High School Principal Cody Lewis to a teaching position starting next school year.
Voting against the reassignment were board members Kathleen Smith and Brad Waldhoff and board President Angie Byers. Board members Jane Willenborg, Jill Wendling, Steve Bone and Robin Klosterman voted in favor of the reassignment. The meeting was live streamed for the first time on YouTube because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the public comment portion of the meeting prior to the vote, board members heard from junior high teachers Susan Young and Shellie Baker and junior high secretary Linda Baker in person. Superintendent Mark Doan read from 15 letters on behalf of teachers and retired teachers, a retired secretary, the junior high head custodian and head cook, district director of transportation and Lewis’ wife in favor of keeping Lewis as the junior high principal.
Young asked the board for consistency at the junior high as the school has changed principals often in the last few years. Lewis is currently in his third year as the EJHS principal and served as the assistant principal at Effingham High School prior to his stint at the junior high; before becoming an assistant principal, Lewis was an EHS teacher.
“The thing we’re needing more than anything right now is consistency and stableness and a steady environment and a good environment. A few years ago, we were given new administration. Yeah, I’m not going to lie. The first couple years were rough. They didn’t know us. We didn’t know them,” Young said of Lewis’ start as the principal.
“Fast forward three years. During that three years, we’ve been able to build. We’ve been able to get a better environment. Cody has gotten more comfortable with us. We have gotten more comfortable with him.”
Young said a shift in administration could not come at a worse time for the school because it is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and is also in the middle of a multiyear remodel, for which Lewis has been present for since the beginning.
She added that keeping Lewis will ensure the consistency she and her co-workers seek remains.
“We need stability and consistency that having Mr. Cody Lewis as EJHS principal can give us. My co-workers and I respectfully ask that the school board take all these ideas into consideration when making any decisions,” Young said. “We respectfully ask for the consistency that we need. We ask that EJHS will be allowed to continue the growth that has been started and not having to begin all over again.”
Linda Baker shared Young’s sentiments, telling the board that losing Lewis would be a “big hit” for the junior high.
Shellie Baker said she started teaching at the junior high the same year Lewis became principal. She said Lewis has been supportive of the teachers’ needs and has the ability to direct the school in the direction it needs to go.
Shellie Baker indicated there may be some resistance from some school staff to changes Lewis has tried to implement at the junior high.
Shellie Baker asked the board to consider what the students need.
“Our school needs Mr. Lewis. This is about our students and what they need,” Shellie Baker said. “We need somebody that’s going to be there, that is there for the students, and wants to make it better for our students...and he, knowing him as a principal, wants the best education for our students.”
The letters from those who were unable to show their support for Lewis in person spoke of positive changes Lewis has made in the school and his dedication to the junior high. Many who wrote in described Lewis as professional, attentive and fair.
EJHS teacher Nancy Ervin wrote that Lewis has addressed concerns over communication between him and his staff, and that things at the junior high are “moving in the right direction.”
The board does not respond to public comment and did not discuss the reassignment following the vote, adjourning immediately after.
In other matters, the board:
• Approved the purchase of a 2004 forklift from Bahrns Equipment. Assistant Superintendent Jason Fox told the board the 2004 model replaces one that was struck by a vehicle in the high school parking lot. After insurance is figured in, the district will pay $7,025 out of pocket for the forklift.
• Heard from Fox that over 200 students have been served with sack lunches every day since the district began passing them out at the beginning of the school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Approved the following personnel matters: hired Morgan Drees as a teacher for the 2020-2021 school year; the transfer of first and second grade interventionist Kelly Lohman to South Side next school year; the resignation of special education teacher, assistant junior high softball coach and junior high track coach Alexandra Niebrugge; and the retirement of Dawn Byrum as head cook at South Side and Jenny Fruchtl as a guidance counselor at the end of the current school year and Ellen Brummer as a teacher at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.