Who’s Got the Principal’s Back?West Ashley High School Principal Lee Runyon Gets Reassigned
May 11, 2017
By Bill Davis | News Editor
On Monday, a busload of concerned West Ashley High School parents went downtown to join an even larger protest at 75 Calhoun St., to stop their principal, Lee Runyon, from being run-off.
WAHS moms and dads accompanied by their kids went to the headquarters of the Charleston County School District to take part in “Rally for Runyon,” where teachers and supporters from across the county were already protesting a new teacher evaluation process that had been undertaken.
The West Ashleyians, many wearing school color purple, turned out after it was confirmed that Runyon was to be reassigned to a new school by Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait.
Two weeks ago, it was leaked that Runyon’s new employment contract listed “pending” as his school assignment. Runyon is nearing the end of this third year at WAHS, following immediately in the footsteps of his mother, now a member of the district’s administration in charge of curriculum.
Supportive parents reacted quickly, forming impromptu social media networks, burning up phones, and pushing for a meeting with Postlewait. One of the ideas floated was taking the school into a charter status and out of the district’s hands.
Reached Friday, Runyon declined to say much about his pending reassignment. He was resolute that he very much wanted to stay at WAHS. Since arriving at the school, graduation rates have held steady, end-of-course test scores have fluctuated little, and ACT scores have risen, he said.
Runyon added that he was “humbled” by the outpouring of support.
That same day at roughly the same time, Postlewait met with a “select group” of WAHS parents for two-way dialogue, to hear concerns from both sides, and provide factual information.
Postlewait issues this statement after the meeting:
“One of the things that was agreed upon is that the students and teachers at West Ashley High School are our highest priority, and when a change in leadership occurs, the transition must be smooth for all involved.”
What that statement leaves out, that principals are also a high priority, rankles parents like Katie Brown, who attended the meeting. Brown grew up with Runyon, and has two sons playing varsity baseball at the school.
Brown said going into the meeting she felt like Postlewait was going to try and manipulate her and the other parents, and maybe get them involved in the process of finding Runyon’s replacement.
After the meeting, Brown said the superintendent tried to recruit her and the other parents into the process, but all refused. “She wasn’t trying to manipulate us, but there wasn’t anything said we didn’t already know,” other than she didn’t have anyone in mind to succeed Runyon, said Brown.
Brown had two main missions going into the meeting: finding out if Postlewait would leave Runyon in place and why would the superintendent even consider removing him.
Brown reported Postlewait saying that Runyon would be reassigned and that his skillset was needed in another school.
She wondered how much press the coverage of a major fight in the school in December that involved multiple students, resource officers, teachers, and bystanders affected Runyon’s reputation and future.
When Runyon first arrived at WAHS, he told West Of that his first two goals would be to handle discipline problems and restore a winning attitude at the school.
“Every school has fighting, but we still lose a lot of kids to James Island Charter High School,” said Brown. “It’s frustrating because we have great teachers and sports programs, and an awesome principal … we just get a bad rap when the news put that fight on TV.”
WAHS Parent Teacher Student Organization president Lisa Morelli also attended the meeting. Morelli said she has tried to remove as much emotion from her reactions in hopes of being as effective as possible.
But she said that doesn’t mean she isn’t dedicated to keeping Runyon in place. Morelli’s daughter had requested to leave a local private school, Bishop England, to attend WAHS.
That being said, Morelli said Postlewait was very clear in her intention to advertise Runyon’s job this week. Morelli said that means that she is going to push in two distinct areas.
One, she will fight to keep Runyon at the school for the better part of the following year, in hopes of him being able to train his replacement and pass on his skillset.
Two, she will reach out to local legislators to change state laws governing who gets to decide where principals end up.
“I am requesting that our local legislators, state Reps. Leon Stavrinakis, Sandy Senn, Wendell Gaillard, Lin Bennett, [pursue] a full investigation into this matter immediately and reverse this decision,” said Morelli. “I understand and respect there is a need to make some changes but not with Principal Runyon. His work is not done at West Ashley and there needs to be a long term succession plan with transitioning for principals as a state standard. Without a smooth transition and mentoring of the next principal to lead the school, we run the risk of losing great families because of fear of the school failing.”
Morelli added that the West Ashley community would be “heartbroken” by such a change.
Brown said to expect an “exodus” of concerned parents if Runyon is reassigned.
District 10 Constituent Board member Jenn Osteen said this weekend that if Postlewait “truly has WAHS students’ best interest at heart, she would not be actively looking for a new principal. We already have the best one for the job.