June 06, 2006
By Pat Litowitz
New Castle News
A civil rights leader is questioning why a veteran principal was not hired as the city school district’s newest administrator.
“I am outraged that once again a person highly qualified with excellent credentials has been passed by the New Castle school board,” said Evelyn P. Ward, president of the New Castle chapter of the NAACP.
During a special session last week, the school board voted 9-0 to hire Terence P. Meehan as administrative assistant to the superintendent. Meehan is a former city resident.
Junior high school principal Jacqueline M. Respress, who is black, also had applied for the job. Meehan and Respress had advanced to the second round of interviews, which included George Washington Intermediate School principal Mark Elisco and Hermitage Middle School principal Robert Kwiat.
Respress said she was deeply disappointed by the board’s decision.
“I had believed this administration was committed to bridging a gap that existed in this community, but the historic opportunity to bring diversity to the central office of the New Castle school district has been lost.”
Superintendent George Gabriel said he had received a letter Friday from Respress’ attorney requesting documents. Gabriel said he could not disclose the nature of the request.
“The context of the letter’s request led me to believe there may be litigation.”
Gabriel said he could not elaborate.
Respress said she had no comment on Gabriel’s assessment.
In the first round of the selection process May 9, Gabriel, his administrative staff and the school board reviewed eight applications. A second round of interviews took place May 25.
Five days later, the board hired the 42-year-old Meehan, who had been principal at Greensburg Central Catholic High School. Meehan will join the district July 1. He will be paid $93,945 annually.
“Our community has benefited from her many years of hard work and dedication,” Ward said. “She has continually strived to create a strong desire in the children of New Castle to strive for excellence and strong work ethics.
“The school district has benefited from the results of her efforts.”
At the May school board meeting, Ward delivered a letter to each board member. In the correspondence, the local NAACP chapter backed Respress as Gabriel’s assistant.
Charlotte Sheffield, who is on the school board and is an officer with the city’s NAACP chapter, voted for Meehan. She declined to discuss the hiring.
“I just don’t feel comfortable saying anything,” she said.
Ramona Jordan, a former school board member, joined Ward in decrying the decision not to hire Respress.
“She couldn’t have been more qualified,” said Jordan, who served in the mid-1990s. “She paid her dues. It was such a slap in the face.
“It’s so blatantly unfair.”
Respress, who will receive her doctorate in educational leadership Aug. 19, said she is heartened by the community’s support. She noted that the interview process prevented her from attending her son’s graduation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“Having been born and raised in the city, my entire professional life has been devoted to the students of this community,” she said.
“I believe that I make a continuing impact in the lives of the citizens and students of this district.”
The next regular school board meeting is June 14.