The Gainesville City School Board meeting Monday had a larger-than-average crowd, when a number of residents came to express support for Wayne Vickery.
Vickery, who was not present at the meeting, has worked with the school system for 34 years, during which time he coached baseball and has most recently been working as a high school athletic director and driver’s education teacher in a part-time role.
In late March, Gainesville Superintendent Wanda Creel confirmed the system would be moving in “a new direction” and creating a full-time director of athletics and student activities position. Vickery would be eligible to apply, but he said he wasn’t interested in the redefined role.
“The decision to create a full-time position of director of athletics and student activities was one the board has talked about for some time now,” said board chairwoman Delores Diaz. “Our system has grown tremendously, and along with it the needs of our students have grown.”
Residents at the meeting Monday expressed their concern regarding this position and the way Vickery has been treated.
“This was not done the Gainesville way,” said Lee Wiley of Gainesville. “A big word we pass around here is tradition — a winning tradition, a classy tradition.”
Wiley said he wanted to address not only the way Vickery’s position was handled, but the change of leadership itself.
“The current direction of athletics at Gainesville High under the leadership of Wayne Vickery has been to compete at a very high level with facilities that are unmatched in the state and a coaching staff that is consistent, quality and happy,” Wiley said. “All while operating in the black.”
Wiley said removing Vickery’s leadership would negatively affect the direction of Gainesville athletics.
Larry Lykins also questioned the treatment of Vickery.
“If you treat a person like that and don’t let him go out with honor, you’re going to lose a lot of donors,” he said.
Susan Rosetti, whose father Durward Pennington was a longtime Gainesville High School teacher and coach, addressed the board Monday to discuss the driver’s ed course.
Rosetti said most people in the community know that her father and Vickery were best friends.
“You probably think I’m up here to speak on behalf of Wayne Vickery and the disgraceful way a 34-year employee has been treated,” she said. “But I’m not.”
Rosetti instead asked the board to ensure they retain the driver’s ed course, saying it is a vital asset to the community.
“We are the only school in Hall County to offer that course,” she said. “If you are debating about doing away with driver’s ed, please consider what a blessing it is to offer this course.”
Creel said “absolutely no decision had been made” to remove the driver’s ed course. Never did she or the board consider that the course might be removed, she said. All courses are currently in a budgeting process, Creel added.
“Coach Vickery has not been told in any way, shape or fashion that he is not going to be able to teach driver’s education in the future,” she said.
Many of the speakers, including Rosetti and Wiley, asked the board to consider letting Vickery stay on in his capacity for another year, so that he could leave Gainesville City Schools with honor. Wiley said Vickery ought to be on the selection committee for the new position.
Clay Sanders of Gainesville said he hopes to see some form of compromise or reconsideration regarding Vickery.
“My asking has nothing to do with the direction you’ve decided to go, because I actually understand a K-12 athletic director,” he said. “I think it broadens and enhances all of our diverse student activities. But my fear is the public perception we’re giving off to the highly-qualified educators we want. If we don’t show them we cherish a 35-year employee, if we can’t send him off in a respectful manner, how can we recruit those teachers to come here?”
Creel said Vickery was notified of the change before the job listing was posted online, partly because he was welcomed and encouraged to apply for it.
She said the new director of athletics and student activities position was listed beginning March 31 and the listing was closed April 17. There are a total of 29 applicants and paper applications will be reviewed by a committee.
“A committee comprised of community members, middle and high school coaches, an elementary school P.E. teacher, parents and administrators will be reviewing the applications through a rubric paper screening process and targeting which candidates will be interviewed later this week,” Creel said. “We look forward to continuing to work with our schools and community partners to provide quality athletic and student activities for students in the Gainesville City School System.”
Both Diaz and Creel commended Vickery for his work for the system. Diaz said the new direction for the system does not reflect negatively on Vickery.
“Tradition is important to us on the board,” Diaz said. “Three of us are products of the school system, and all of us have or have had children, grandchildren or mentees in the school system. We would do nothing to change the traditions of the school system.”