Before Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin introduced ’s new interim principal to parents, he spoke to the situation that brought several dozen parents and a few students to the school’s media center on a cold Tuesday night.
“Frankly, I want to make sure you hear from me on the information the district is able to communicate,” Lewis-Lakin said in reference to in the school’s student activity fund.
Specifically, the superintendent wanted to make clear Greening's leave is what he termed a “neutral status,” meaning it is nonprejudicial.
Lewis-Lakin said he wanted to be clear there has not been a suspension, termination or negative employment action.
“(A paid administrative leave) is not uncommon in situations where there needs to be an exploration of an issue," he said. "It is an interim measure."
Lewis-Lakin also wanted also wanted to clarify the district’s concern was “possible financial irregularities.”
“There have been no accusations in the district of theft or embezzlement or any of the other things you may have heard or read about in the press,” he said, asking parents and students not to jump to conclusions or make assumptions.
Meet Mr. Moll
The superintendent introduced the new interim principal, Jim Moll, a retired administrator from Birmingham Public Schools, who began work at the high school Tuesday morning as students came back from their holiday break.
Most recently, Moll served as principal of in Birmingham for six years before retiring in June. Before Berkshire, Moll spent four years as the dean of students at , 13 years running Birmingham's Experiential Learning Center and eight years as a crisis counselor. Before that, Moll taught English and theater at Groves and Berkshire.
“We had a wonderful first day,” Moll told families Tuesday night, saying he could not count the number of handshakes he got hanging out with students in the hallway and all three lunch shifts at the high school.
“The kids welcomed a stranger into their school, and are trusting that things are going to be OK,” he said.
Moll said he met with staff before and after school Tuesday and addressed students over the public address system in the morning, encouraging them to stay focused on classes, clubs, activities and those things they can control.
“The best way you can honor Mr. Greening is to excel in the classroom, extra-curricular sports and activities,” he told the students. He encouraged them not to engage in speculation or judgments and promised to keep students informed.
The decision to bring in Moll happened quickly. Moll said he had a telephone conversation one day and the next day he had an interview. “And the next day I was signing some paperwork,” he said. “And then you got the email at home a couple of days later.”
“We’ve been acting quickly,” he said, “but we have been acting purposefully as well.”
Lewis-Lakin and Moll took questions from parents and students, resulting in the following points.
- Moll said he is prepared to be the interim principal at the high school for as long as it takes — be it a few days or until the end of the school year.
- Lewis-Lakin said the district brought in someone from outside because "we're running lean" and he didn't want to create a domino effect by moving staff around. "I did not want to run this building with one less person," he said.
- Lewis-Lakin said he could not explain any timelines at this point, while the matter is still under investigation and that Royal Oak Police have not yet been able to indicate how long their investigation will take.
- The superintendent said the district did not, “boom, make a decision.” Officials explored concerns internally before going to other agencies, he said.
- An outside independent auditor is also looking into the matter.
- Lewis-Lakin said he could not say who or what raised concerns about the student activities fund, but it did not originate in the board office.
- Moll will assume all of Greening’s responsibilities, including the overseeing of the school activities fund in question.
- The school activities fund, in the past, has not been a part of the district’s annual audit.
- The activity fund can, at any given time, have between $20,000 and $30,000 in it. “A lot of it, quite frankly, is in and out money,” Lewis-Lakin said.
- No club budgets will be affected. “We’ve taken steps to make sure activities can go on,” the superintendent said.
- Lewis-Lakin addressed concerns that the email that was sent to students and families somehow damaged Greening’s reputation. The superintendent said the district wrestled with how, and how much, information to share with students and parents, saying he first and foremost wanted to make sure families knew the building would have a new interim principal on Jan. 3. He included the phrase "possible financial irregularities" in his communication to families after consultation with the district's legal counsel. "We were concerned about what people might speculate if we did not provide some information regarding the reason behind the leave."
Royal Oak High School parent Hans Grohs had a lot of questions for Lewis-Lakin during the reception. His biggest concern is that, as another parent pointed out, "where there is smoke there is fire."
Grohs wondered if the investigation will reveal issues in other funds at the high school. "I've never asked any questions about where any money went," he said. "I think I will start now."
Parent Janet Trafeli was at the meeting to show her support for Moll. "He was my 11th-grade drama teacher," Trafeli said. "He was awesome. Very animated."
Trafeli said she would sometimes cry when she had to deliver her lines because she was so nervous. "The kids would tease me and he would tell them to stop it," she said. "He always had students' best interests at heart. He showed empathy and compassion."
Correction: The meeting was Tuesday.