The Memphis Academy of Health Sciences High School (MAHS) has filed suit against recently fired principal Dr. Reginald Williams, saying he violated a separation agreement and has been making false statements
Williams’ firing, along with the termination of English teacher Patricia Ange, has ignited protests from parents and students demanding answers. On Tuesday morning, some students walked out of class and were joined in protests by members of Memphis Lift, an organization of parents advocating for quality public education.
MAHS Executive Director Corey Johnson was unavailable for comment when The New Tri-State Defender reached out to the school. Florence Johnson, the attorney who represents the charter school, said news coverage of the situation “has been unfair” and skewed by false statements by Williams.
“And we have no choice but to file a lawsuit against this former employee for making false statements surrounding this situation.”
A press release from Johnson’s office Wednesday said Williams had breached a “mutually satisfying Separation Agreement,” and “had set about a course of conduct that consistently, in multiple venues, violated his Separation Agreement and his promises.”
During a telephone interview Wednesday with The New Tri-State Defender, Williams answered a knock at the door of his home and was served with a restraining order barring him from contacting any persons associated with MAHS.
“I guess they feel I should not have spoken about the situation at all. This is why I received this restraining order,” Williams said.
Sarah Carpenter, Memphis Lift executive director, has a granddaughter at MAHS. She said a lot has gone on behind the scenes.
“Dr. Williams was a great school leader. He really cares about our children. But he was fired because low test scores came back from the standardized tests last year. But those tests had glitches and everybody knows that. That should not have cost him his job.”
Tennessee legislators tried to eradicate any negative impact on educators and administrators because of the flawed, technical malfunctions of the standardized measure of student performance in the classroom.
“We got the news that our scores were at Level I on August 3rd,” said Williams. “A week later on the 10th, Mr. Johnson came in and told me ‘we are going our separate ways, and today is your last day.’ I kept asking, ‘What is the reason for this?’ But he would not say. And I said, ‘It’s the test scores, isn’t it?’ I just never got an answer.”
Williams said a few months prior Johnson had praised his leadership and commended him on bringing the scores from a Level II to a Level IV. Williams, who was released the second week of the school year, said he was given a severance package at the time of separation.
Williams was principal at Kirby High School for eight years before coming to MAHS in 2014.
An assembly was called this week to address the matter but Carpenter said it was “not enough.”
“We crowded out the board meeting last month and finally learned that Dr. Williams had not quit, but was fired,” said Carpenter. “The last straw was when Ms. Ange was let go last week.”
In addition to teaching English, Ange prepared students for the ACT college entrance exam.
“Ms. Ange helped those kids bring scores up from 14 to 26,” said Carpenter. “These children are going on to college and doing well. She loved those children and spent time with them. My granddaughter started to feel confident about taking the test because of her. The only reason she was fired was for defending Dr. Williams at the board meeting.”
Ange, who was cited for “unprofessional conduct,” told the TSD, “I don’t know what I did. …I called and tried to speak with someone, but was unable to do so.
“But I am beyond proud of those kids. They’ve been messaging me, and I’m overwhelmed by their support. I’ve invested so much in them. I guess I didn’t realize they were also invested in me.”
Carpenter said she has sent many children to MAHS because she felt it was offering a real quality education.
“Mr. Johnson has still not really talked to us,” said Carpenter.
“The school has changed so much. There are fights in the hallways, and someone set off smoke bombs. None of that ever happened while Dr. Williams was principal. Teachers have quit, and students are transferring.”
Johnson’s press release concluded: “MAHS has had no choice but to file suit in the Chancery Court, Part I to enforce its legal rights and seek monetary damages from Williams to protect its students from harm.”
Williams said he would retain legal counsel.
Carpenter said Memphis Lift will remain involved.
Eleventh-grader Lajerrica Wilson-Carpenter said things have changed for the worse.
“The administrators don’t care about us. They don’t check uniforms anymore like when Dr. Williams was here. Two of my teachers have left, and students are leaving, too. It’s really sad. Nothing is the same anymore.”