’We must find a solution to the problem’: 3rd principal in 3 years leaves Huntsville school; students seek answers

3rd principal in 3 years leaves Huntsville school; students seek answers

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Schools out and so is the principal at Mae Jemison High School in Huntsville. In the three years that the school has been open, this is the third principal to resign. Board members say each time has been unique but mainly up to the administrator. Students and parents are seeking more answers.

Dr. Rachael McDaniel is leaving Jemison after just one year as the principal. School officials confirm she has taken a job in the Gulf Shores school system. Dr. Matt Akin, former Huntsville City Schools Superintendent, heads that system.

“No other school on any level in the history of Huntsville City Schools has had six principals in five years," said Laura Lemley. Her son is student in the College Academy at Jemison.

Parents and students held a press conference outside of Huntsville City Schools central office Monday. Students tell WAFF 48 that the trend of principals leaving is not fueling their success.

“Our motto at Jemison is to build a dynasty but we can’t build that dynasty if we have so much inconsistency with principals coming in and out, teachers coming in and out...we can’t really learn from that," stated graduating Senior Sincere Anderson.

“What do you think this is doing to the students in this school," questioned College Academy Junior Alyssa Poe. "It can’t possibly be helping them.”

In a January 2019 report, the Alabama Department of Education found Jemison to be in the 6% of schools across the state. The High school and its two feeder schools (Lakewood Elementary & Ronald McNair 7-8) are the only three “failing” schools in North Alabama.

Additionally, the department also gave the three schools low scores on the state “Report Card.”

“She was the kind of leader that Jemison needed to move in a positive direction," said Lemley.

With her in just one year, students say they could feel she was turning the tide.

“Everyday she was in cafeterias, classrooms, hallways, all of the events.....just involved with the students more. We felt more comfortable," explained Anderson.

Arianna Tibbs, a Junior in the College Academy, went on to add, “This type of personal connection with the principal has eliminated physical altercations and risen class attendance.”

“The pattern of not being able to keep a principal more than a year shows that it’s not just the principal, it’s a systemic problem with the kind of support they are not getting from the Board and leadership," stated Lemley.

Huntsville City Schools Board of Education District 1 member Michelle Watkins represents Jemison High. In a statement she said, “When an individual is ready to leave a district, the Superintendent nor board can make them stay.”

Overall, parents and students both believe her work would have paid off for the students and community.

Huntsville City Schools spokesperson Keith Ward tells 48 News “they are saddened by Dr. McDaniel’s decision to return home to South Alabama.” In regards to providing more stability for Jemison, he says they recognize its importance to students, faculty, and the community.

“The Superintendent is already working on finding the right fit for JHS and will fill the vacancy as soon as possible to ensure that the community has a chance to get to know their new principal,” said Ward.

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