The outcome of Monday night’s Mahomet-Seymour School Board meeting left many Mahomet residents speechless.
After an hour of public comment, followed by two hours of lawyers walking back and forth between Ms. Porter and the Mahomet-Seymour School Board, the board tabled the resolution to reclassify Courtney Porter from the Assistant Principal at Lincoln Trail to the classroom. President Max McComb then read a mutual separation agreement between the board of education and Ms. Porter.
The board approved the agreement 5-0, with Jenny Park abstaining due to a conflict of interest. Board member Merle Giles was absent.
Board President Max McComb read, “On May 7, 2018, by mutual agreement, the Board of Education of Mahomet-Seymour Community School District 3 and Assistant Principal Courtney Porter have decided it’s in the best interest of both parties to end the contractual relationship effective immediately.”
In a room filled with nearly 100 people, who had gathered in the room for conversation for nearly three hours, the group fell silent.
In the longest public comment session, the Mahomet-Seymour School Board has encountered in at least the last five years, Mahomet resident and parent Matthew Underwood said that the lack of information coming out of the school board recently is “quite deafening.”
Underwood, the father of seven children in the district, was there in support of Ms. Porter and Sangamon Elementary first grade teacher Robin Holmes, who found out her contract would not be renewed for the 2018-2019 school year on March 12, 2018.
Underwood, who has had a child under Ms. Porter’s care for all but one of the 10 years she’s been in the district, said that Ms. Porter “has always been available. She’s never once dismissed us or dismissed anything that we had hurtly or out of order, but she’s always gone through and talked to us about the things we had concerned with.”
It has been rumored that Ms. Holmes’ contract was not renewed to make room for Ms. Porter’s reassignment into the classroom. Underwood said that although Ms. Holmes has filled in for a year-long leave of absence and to provide a teacher in a first-grade class this year, the district has not treated Ms. Holmes as a teacher.
“Instead of actually treating her as a teacher, the full year she was there as a teacher and did an absolutely phenomenal job. The problem is that last year you treated her as a substitute and as a substitute she only got paid one-third of what a teacher would be paid.”
He told the room filled with bright orange Porter Supporter t-shirts that if everyone had also had Ms. Holmes as a teacher, they’d also be Holmes Supporters.
But not everyone in the room was there to support Courtney Porter.
Other community members who chose to express themselves were Mahomet residents and business colleagues of board President Max McComb, Madeline Hoeft and Jayme Ahlden as well as Mahomet resident Jeff Banister, a business colleague of board member Lance Raver.
All three speakers thanked the board for performing their difficult job.
Hoeft, who said that she has sat on boards in larger districts, said that being a board member is not a “fun” job.
“We elect our school board members to gain insight to all that is going on, listen to people and make the decisions that have to be made for the best interest of the children and of the district,” she said.
Hoeft read a letter from former board member Vicki Niswander. Ahlden read one from former board member Becky Ryherd.
Niswander wrote that she “asks the board to not be swayed by those who do not have access to the facts.”
Lincoln Trail Interventionist Dianne Bollman got up to show her support for the Mahomet-Seymour School Board and Superintendent Lindsey Hall, noting that she trusts the decisions they make.
“I hope that everyone remembers that the Mahomet-Seymour voters are the ones that voted for our school board members and put them in the position they are in today,” she said.
Bollman also talked about a change in atmosphere at Lincoln Trail over the last month and a half.
“Our building climate has definitely changed,” she said. “Our staff and students are being encouraged to take sides where there should not be sides. There is a definite split feeling when I come into work every day.
“I’ve observed flyers being posted in our hallways, students moving through the hallways pumping their fist in the air, stating that they are part of the protest and even students walking into my classroom where learning is supposed to be happening, chanting ‘Porter Supporter.’ ”
Bollman said that 8- to 11-year old children were being used as pawns in something they cannot understand.
“I have gone so far to ask a student who was chanting that he was part of the protest to explain what he meant. This was a fifth-grade student and he had no idea what to say. It was obvious that he didn’t understand the situation, and simply jumped in since other kids were doing so.”
Mahomet-Seymour students who spoke at Monday night’s board meeting included junior Amy Schuh, sophomore Lindsey Hodges and eighth-grader Preston Hodges. Sixth-grade students Brogan Hennesy and Madelyn Grindley, along with eighth-grade student Sophie Deck,fifth-grader Ella McCormick and Mahomet-Seymour alum Amber Vincent also addressed the Board and told stories about how Porter impacted their lives.
Schuh told the board that she actually thought Porter was the principal at Lincoln Trail in grades three through eight because Porter was so involved with students.
Hodges said that from the moment she walked into Lincoln Trail as a third-grader, she knew Porter was someone she could trust.
“Miss Porter, I would just like to tell you on behalf of every high school student I’ve talked to for the last week and a half, that you have our complete and utter support,” Hodges said. “We all have nothing but good stories of you, whether it’s the costumes that you used to dress up in, or the fact that if we had a problem, we could always come to you because we trusted you.”
Deck said, that in the face of tough situations because of a medical condition, she knew she had a cheerleader in Porter.
“I know that no matter what day it was, even though she was my assistant principal, she was also my friend. She’s treated so many other kids this way, too,” she said. “I can not count the number of times that Ms. Porter assured me that everything was going to be okay, and that this was going to be my best year yet.”
Grindley said Porter “gets to know each and every student as best as she can each and every year. She doesn’t only get to know them on an educational level, but on a personal level as well.”
Porter who helped with lunch and recess duty, was often the first person a child saw after being hurt on the playground. Grindley illustrated a couple instances where Porter comforted a child in distress.
“Yeah, she may just be doing her job, but she’s doing it in a way that no one else can,” she said.
“She always puts everyone before herself, and to me, that is really important in today’s society.”
Madelyn’s mom, Michelle, talked about the countless after-school hours Porter put into events, even washing dishes, added that Porter is special because she has “a unique ability to meet people where they are at.”
“She’s a patient listener,” Michelle said. “She’s been able to inspire my daughter to be that way, too. Miss Porter is the type who is always watching and observing. And that is something you can’t teach. Without her at Lincoln Trail, there is a hole. There is a missing part of that team. And I feel like she is not something that can be replaced by another administrator.”
Vincent told the board that because of Porter’s guidance, she learned how to control her emotions so that she would not take it out on others, but instead turn her emotions into something good.
“She helped shape me into who I am today,” she said.
Mahomet resident Katrina Roberts illustrated how Porter not only helped her son who struggled while at Lincoln Trail, but also never gave up on the Roberts family in times of trial.
“A couple times, he threw his lunch at her,” she said.”She never missed a beat, she just kept looking at him and filling him full of confidence. A lot of people have given up on my son, but Courtney never gave up on him.”
Mahomet resident Laura Lang, who graduated from Mahomet-Seymour, but also recently moved back to the United States from Germany with her family, said that when trying to inquire about assimilating her children to Mahomet-Seymour, she received little response.
But Porter reached out to Lang and helped her family transition into Lincoln Trail.
Lang is now a substitute within the district.
“What I’ve experienced there in those corridors is what makes Mahomet great. It is definitely not one person who makes Mahomet great: it is the janitors, it is the speech therapist, it is the lowly sub who make it great. But it’s also the jewels that we see: the Mr. and Mrs. Watkins, the Del Ryans. Those are the people that shine through our community that have that special humility, that special pizazz, that special love for education, and that’s what I see in Ms. Porter.”
Steve Freeman, an Urbana resident and colleague of Courtney Porter, ended his statement noting that Porter had been with the district for 10 years.
“She’s been doing something right for 10 years. I don’t know what all of the sudden happened,” he said.