Photo Credit: Chase Street PTO
A tumultuous year for the Clarke County School District continues as the new principal at Chase Street Elementary School and the popular band director at Clarke Middle School both resigned within the past week.
Nikki Hittle, whom former superintendent Demond Means hired to lead Chase in August, resigned today effective immediately. Hittle is leaving “to explore other career opportunities,” according to CCSD Communications Manager Beth Moore.
As with all principal hirings, Chase’s Local School Governance Team—made up of teachers, parents and community members—will provide input into the new principal. In the meantime, Executive Director of Leadership Development Rachel Williams will support assistant principal Allison Niedzwieki, Interim Superintendent Xernona Thomas said.
“I am confident our teachers and staff at Chase Street Elementary will continue to serve our students and maintain a focus on instruction,” Thomas said.
Chase will now be on its fourth principal in four years. Longtime principal Adam Kurtz left in 2018, and his sucessor, Andrea Neher, resigned in 2019. Nine of 21 CCSD schools have new principals this school year.
Meanwhile, Clarke Middle School band director Brian Parido is also resigning effective today. He wrote a scathing open letter to parents last week describing discipline problems and lack of support from administrators.
I would like to begin by saying that it has been my honor and privilege to serve as the Band Director at Clarke Middle School for the last seven years. In that time, we have seen the program blossom into an award-winning powerhouse of music education. I consider myself lucky to have worked with such amazing students and colleagues at Clarke Middle. However, over the course of the last year, the philosophy and direction of the fine arts programs have taken a turn down a path that is, quite frankly, unsustainable. I consider the information presented in this letter to be a matter of public concern and should you feel the need to contact me for more information, I would be happy to respond.
Despite my exponentially growing numbers each year, our district budget remains the same now as it was seven years ago. In our current school year, this equates to around $17 per student. Through fundraising efforts we have been able to supplement the district budget but are consistently unable to meet the demand for instruments. This puts tremendous pressure on me to make sure shared instruments are clean and sanitized for each student, while also spending a considerable amount of time repairing broken instruments because we do not have the money to get them fixed.
With one planning period each day, my commitment to ensuring each student has a working instrument reduces the amount of time needed to effectively plan rehearsals, create lessons, communicate with parents and plan events like Large Group Performance Evaluation, fundraisers, and band trips. The hiring of a full time assistant band director would likely ease this burden a bit, and based on numbers in comparable programs, I have more than enough students to deem this a necessity. However, when a request was submitted to hire an assistant, I was told this would not be possible. I then requested a paraprofessional that could at least assist with managing classroom behaviors and helping with clerical work, and was told this was “approved” but as of yet nothing has been posted. This leaves me trying to plan, execute, and grade lessons for close to 400 students.
For the last seven years, I have confidently and comfortably managed classes of up to 60 students. However, when a beginning student is placed in a classroom with students who have been performing for multiple years, neither student is getting what they need. Every student should have the opportunity to experience a performing arts class, but what is equitable about a student struggling to hold an instrument while drowning in a class full of musicians performing way above their level?
This year has been the most challenging year with student behavior that I can remember. When students start chanting “F*** Mr. Parido,” I know something is simply not working. I incur verbal abuse like this from students almost every day and it is definitely more of an issue now than in previous years. No amount of lesson planning can prevent a child from cursing out their teacher. There must be a more effective solution out there.
Due to the above concerns, the program we built has become unrecognizable. As a final attempt to save this program, which has provided so much for the students of Clarke Middle, I have decided I must resign my position effective February 17th. I feel that this decision will force our school and our district to think critically about how much our fine arts programs mean to the students and to the community. I also hope that this act will spurn change for the better, knowing that my reputation and integrity might still be called into question. Our students deserve positive change, and our teachers do as well. If our district cannot find a way to support these fantastic fine arts programs and the amazing staff members that run them, I feel I will likely not be the last to resign.
Please understand this decision did not come easily. When I think back on my time here at Clarke Middle, my most treasured memories will definitely be the time spent with my incredibly dedicated students in the classroom. Thank you for your support. This experience has been transformative for me and I will never forget the amazing things we have accomplished as a band program.
Thomas said she was not aware of Parido’s concerns, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.
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