On Friday, May 25, 2012, at 5:02 p.m., I received a request from Dr. Tom McCullough that he be allowed to use his accrued leave in lieu of serving a suspension without pay through the end of his contract, June 30, 2012. I had presented this very option to Dr. McCullough on Monday, May 14, 2012, even before he gave notice of his intent to retire, explaining that, in view of issues that had been developing throughout the school year, I felt the need to make an immediate change in the school administration. When Dr. McCullough refused this option and announced his retirement, I suspended him so I could proceed with the school's administrative changes.
I have granted Dr. McCullough's request subject to the understanding that he not be on the campus of SMMHS. Since HCDE would have paid Dr. McCullough for his accrued unused leave after his contract expired on June 30, 2012, this decision does not have any financial impact on the school system.
Some Signal Mountain parents say they're relieved that their principal now can retire without a blemished record.
On Saturday, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith reversed his decision to suspend Signal Mountain Middle/High Principal Tom McCullough, the latest action in a string of events stemming from a March senior trip.
The suspension was announced May 18. Within three days, parents had collected more than 700 online signatures asking Smith to reinstate McCullough. Though he will have to use his accrued leave time through the end of his contract on June 30, parents say they're pleased he'll retire with an unstained record.
"We are so very happy for Dr. McCullough. He's not going to end his time at Signal Mountain and Hamilton County under a cloud," said parent Leslie Smith, who started the online petition.
Parents said the latest decision seemed like a fair compromise for McCullough, who will be replaced by current Sale Creek Middle/High Principal Robin Copp.
"I hate that he loses any money on it, but I don't want him to go into retirement under a suspension," said parent Lisa Crowder. "I think the suspension was unnecessary and uncalled for. That was a big stickler for me -- he didn't need to end 42 years of education with a suspension."
Smith suspended McCullough without pay for his handling of accusations that teachers and students consumed alcohol during a trip to the Bahamas. The suspension came two days after McCullough announced he would retire June 30, ending 42 years in education.
McCullough declined Saturday to comment, and Smith could not be reached for comment.
In an email to school board members Saturday morning, Smith said McCullough may use his accrued leave time but must stay off the Signal Mountain campus. He said the reversal would have no financial impact because McCullough would have been paid anyway for his unused accrued leave.
School leaders disciplined 16 students for drinking on the March cruise, a trip that was approved by the school board. Later, a central office investigation concluded that all seven chaperones drank on the trip, though not around students.
Those implicated included counselors LeAnn Welch and Anne Cushing, Assistant Principal Jason McKinney, college adviser Sandy Mitchum, registrar Lizetta Paturalski, teacher Steve Redman and guidance counselor Leslie Sharpe.
Sharpe is the wife of Robert Sharpe, assistant superintendent of secondary education, who oversees all Hamilton County middle and high schools. Welch's husband, Signal Mountain dentist Jonathan Welch, is the only candidate for the District 2 school board seat in the August election.
McCullough wasn't on the trip, but he was criticized for mishandling the situation and not reporting it to the central office immediately.
In his initial letter suspending McCullough, Smith said the principal's "continued lack of regard for procedures and policy is troubling."
The state Board of Education moved to suspend all seven chaperones' licenses for one year. But after meeting with Smith and other local education officials, the sanctions were reduced.
While they're unsure if their petition influenced the decision, parents lauded the superintendent for his reversal, which treats McCullough with the respect they say he's earned.
"He's a fantastic educator, great person and a great human being," Crowder said. "That was why we did not want the suspension on his record. He really is a wonderful person."