Unease, shock after principal's departure

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

SNELLVILLE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks met with teachers, staff, parents and community members Monday evening at Anderson-Livsey Elementary School to gather input on the school's direction.

As the school ends its first year, the district is searching for a new principal to take the helm in the 2011-12 year. Principal Lawanna Owens-Twaites has resigned for personal reasons, spokeswoman Sloan Roach said.

At Monday's meeting, several people alluded to problems at the school, but the conversation focused on what the community wanted for the future.

"I want nothing more than a successful principal to work with what I believe is already a successful staff here at the school," Wilbanks told the gathering of about 30 people.

Dorethia Livsey, who is part of one of the families from Gwinnett's Promised Land community for which the school is named, said she was shocked to learn that evaluations showed the teachers were unhappy with the school's administration.

"I'm saddened, because from where I sat out there (in the school lobby, where she greets visitors), I thought things were going well," Livsey said.

Livsey said she's optimistic about the future, adding, "We must go forward."

Several staff members at the meeting indicated they were unhappy with the administration, with one exception. Many spoke in favor of assistant principal Tarsha Foye.

"She was always that light when things seemed really dark for us," said Hannika Cooper, a kindergarten paraprofessional at the school.

Cooper said that Foye has been terminated from her current position. Many at the meeting asked Wilbanks if Foye was returning to the school for the upcoming school year and expressed frustration when they did not receive a clear answer.

Parents and staff members praised Foye during the meeting. Cooper said many have flooded Wilbanks' email with messages in support of the administrator and signed a petition fighting to keep Foye as an administrator at the school.

Terri Lenair, a parent whose children were in kindergarten and fifth grade this year, also lauded Foye.

As for the future, Lenair said she wants to see a principal in the school who is open and creative and is a good listener and communicator.

"We need a person who is really aware of the community in which we live so you can effectively interact with parents and students," she said.

Wilbanks said the district hopes to name a principal soon, and a decision could come as early as Thursday, when the school board meets.