On March 30th, Hernando County School Superintendent John Stratton announced in a press release that he had applied for a position as the Superintendent for Brevard County. He was one of thirty-three applicants at the time. On April 18th, Stratton found himself on the “short list,” being named as one of four remaining candidates for the job.
Just six days later, On Monday, April 24th, word began to filter out that Stratton had withdrawn his application. There was no public announcement regarding his decision to withdraw, but he did issue a statement to district employees. The statement read, “After spending time discussing the option to pursue the position in Brevard, I have decided to remain here in Hernando County as superintendent and will not be interviewing with Brevard. Hernando is my home, and I truly appreciate the outpouring of support I have received from so many staff and community members when I announced I was exploring growing in my career, and for that, I will be forever grateful. I have committed 18 years to Hernando County Schools and look forward to continuing to serve our wonderful district.”
Stratton did not reply to an email requesting more information on his decision to withdraw. Stratton was facing increasing headwinds in the Brevard application process after widespread media coverage of a local incident at Fox Chapel Middle School.
In that incident, a teacher experiencing a mental crisis made concerning statements of self-harm as well as statements that some interpreted as a threat toward students. The incident was reported to law enforcement at the time. After school officials and law enforcement determined the teacher was not an “imminent threat,” the teacher was removed from the classroom for only a few days. She was returned to teaching status after a short district investigation that many believe was incomplete.
Parents were not notified of the incident until weeks later when rumors spread through social media, and a local journalist reported the story on his news website. After the story finally broke, angry parents lined up to address the school board at the April 11th meeting. Stratton removed the teacher from the classroom a second time two days later, citing “new information.” The teacher has not returned to the classroom since then.
At least one School Board member in Brevard County was against hiring Stratton because of the Fox Chapel incident. At a recent Brevard County School Board meeting, several parents blasted school board members for having selected Stratton as one of the final four candidates, citing news stories they had heard regarding the Fox Chapel incident.
Here in Hernando County, the Board of County Commissioners held a discussion about the incident on Tuesday, April 25th, just hours before the School Board meeting. During that discussion, County Commissioner and school board liaison Elizabeth Narverud addressed her fellow Commissioners. (Narverud is also a former school board member.) Narverud said she could not understand how a teacher could threaten to shoot her students and then be returned to the classroom. She characterized the decision to return the teacher to the classroom as an “unprecedented failure in leadership” and called for the resignation of Superintendent Stratton.
Commissioner Steve Champion suggested the board write a letter to the Governor, asking that Stratton be removed. Champion said, “The school board is not going to do anything about it because there are three woke liberals that support him.”
Commissioner Brian Hawkins said he believed speaking to the school board members was the right thing to do. Hawkins said he believed it was inappropriate for the Board of Commissioners to call for the removal of members of another board. Hawkins said the one thing he wanted to know from the school board is, “Who is being held accountable?”