Wiscasset school committee votes to dismiss Stevens

Fri, 12/22/2023 - 12:00am

    After another seven hours that included testimony, lawyers’ arguments and Wiscasset school committee’s closed door deliberations, the committee voted shortly before midnight Thursday, Dec. 21 to dismiss Wiscasset Middle High School Principal Gina Stevens.

    Hearing officer Dan Stockford read aloud a resolution the committee went on to adopt. The resolution stated the committee found Stevens on Sept. 29 arranged for a hidden camera to be installed in a room at WMHS “and failed to obtain authorization from, notify, or discuss this with the superintendent before installing the camera.” Stevens said she did arrange for the installation that had been long been discussed, and she “trusted” that Superintendent of Schools Kim Andersson knew via an earlier “tech ticket” she believed Andersson would see while acting as WMHS’ tech director. Andersson has said she did not know of the camera request.  

    The resolution also stated Stevens did not inform staff whose class was adjacent to the room where the camera was installed. Stevens said staff knew the camera was coming. The resolution claimed two students’ privacy was compromised when staff unaware of the camera’s presence let them change clothes in the room where the camera was. And the resolution stated Stevens repeatedly blamed other staff for the hidden camera. Testifying Thursday night, Stevens took responsibility for a camera being at the closet where staff said two students in special education tried on homecoming dresses. 

    “Everything that happens at WMHS is me. I’m the building administrator. Every individual that’s in that building ... they fall under my wing.”
    Stevens testified she neither knew nor would have ever imagined anyone was changing in one of the school’s closets. She said she had directed staff to only let students change in lavatory stalls. And she denied yelling at special education teacher Lindsay Larrabee. 
    The resolution cited other contested points and concluded: “Gina Stevens’ conduct has led to a loss of confidence by the superintendent and the school committee, and demonstrates a lack of fitness and ability to serve as an administrator for the Wiscasset School Department.”
    The committee’s decision was unanimous, said one of the school department’s lawyers, Tom Trenholm. 
    Reached after the vote, Andersson had no immediate comment. Chair Jason Putnam did. “Actions have consequences. Honesty matters,” Putnam replied to a texted question.
    In a phone interview, Stevens’ lawyer Gregg Frame said the committee’s decision was super disappointing. It was too early to say whether the decision will be appealed, he said. He anticipated he and Stevens will discuss options the week of Dec. 25. They have 30 days to file an appeal in superior court, Frame said. Ahead of the hearing, they did not discuss appeal, because they were laser-focused on trying to get the committee to do the right thing, Frame said.

    Much of night two in the dismissal hearing had 100 Zoom attendees plus the audience in the Wiscasset Elementary School gym. The session’s length surpassed night one by an hour. After the committee voted and meeting-goers started to leave, at least one attendee in the gym called out for several seconds. 

    Frame told the committee in his closing arguments, the hearing revealed confusion in some programs and processes. “Real work needs to be done ... Gina wants and deserves to be a part of that solution ...,” he said. She believes in the school district, her abilities, her integrity and her commitment to having safe schools, he said.
    The administration’s attorney Melissa Hewey said if the committee determined Stevens was telling the truth, she should not be dismissed. “But if you determine that she has over and over and over again said things that are false, she cannot be a leader of the school.” 
    Hours earlier, Stevens testified she wanted to stay principal because she loves her WMHS family. Stressful would be an understatement for the last several weeks, she said. They have been surreal, as if the world was upside down, because she has an unblemished career, Stevens said. She voiced thanks for support from students, staff and faculty; and said she violated an instruction in Andersson’s letter placing her on leave; that instruction was to avoid contact with employees or students without Andersson’s permission. 
    School Resource Officer Jonathan Barnes, former special education teacher Tanya Robinson and Andersson’s predecessor, past interim superintendent Robert “Bob” England, praised Stevens’ service on safety, honesty and getting things done.
    Stevens, interim principal last school year after Charles Lomonte left, recalled being on the administrative team last school year with England and Maintenance and Transportation Director John Merry; that is how she learned maintenance had to keep replacing the pantry’s locks and doorknobs someone was breaking. “We talked about getting a camera situated,” to find out who, she said.