Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Author: Seanna Adcox Of The Post and Courier Staff
Published: Tuesday, January 6, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Post and Courier
Contact: [email protected]
Pressure over drug raid sparked move; Brevard named interim principal.
Mounting pressure over a controversial drug raid has prompted the principal at Stratford High School to voluntarily step down after 20 years.
"I realize it is in the best interest of Stratford High School and of my students for me to make a change," George McCrackin said in a prepared statement released Monday by Superintendent Chester Floyd. Floyd appointed Mildred Brevard, a former assistant principal at the Berkeley County school, to serve as interim principal for the rest of the school year. The search for a permanent replacement will begin in the spring.
The change in leadership was greeted with skepticism by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was in town Monday and who has organized several local rallies in protest of the police tactics used during the raid. Several of the 14 Goose Creek police officers who rushed into Stratford's main hallway at about 6:45 a.m. Nov. 5 had guns drawn. Students were ordered to the floor, and officers put plastic restraints on about a dozen of the 107 students detained, while a barking police dog sniffed their backpacks. Officers found no drugs and made no arrests.
"He earned a firing," Jackson said, but that might have been politically impractical. "Clearly, he had to go, but he's a scapegoat. It goes much deeper than the principal."
Until the school board determines the scope of his new job, McCrackin will work preparing for two federal lawsuits filed over the Nov. 5 search that brought national attention to the Goose Creek school. Floyd said McCrackin's salary and benefits remain the same, though information on exactly how much his salary is was unavailable late Monday.
Floyd said there has been "enormous pressures on the Stratford High School community to dissect and discuss the events of Nov. 5. That pressure has probably been most intense on George McCrackin."
Floyd said he and McCrackin spoke several times over the holiday break before McCrackin decided late Saturday he wanted a new assignment.
"We wanted to honor his request prior to students coming back" on Wednesday, Floyd said.
McCrackin declined to speak directly with the media.
Floyd said the district still supports the only principal Stratford ever had. The district hired McCrackin from Charleston County in 1983 to open the school, cited for its student accomplishments and among the largest statewide.
"The fact that George McCrackin has been the principal at Stratford High for 20 years speak volumes about his ability," Floyd said.
McCrackin went to police on Nov. 3 with suspicions of marijuana sales at the school, supported, according to a police report, by video surveillance and an unidentified student who confessed to administrators.
The resulting drug search divided the community as images from school surveillance and police video were broadcast nationwide. Some parents said the raid targeted black students. McCrackin has said about 70 percent of the students in the hallway at that hour were black. The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for McCrackin's dismissal.
State Attorney General Henry McMaster is investigating whether to pursue criminal charges against any of the officials involved in the drug raid after Solicitor Ralph Hoisington stepped aside, citing a conflict of interest.
McMaster toured the school Monday afternoon. After reviewing a 200-page report issued by the State Law Enforcement Division and watching school video of the raid, he wanted to see the school, especially the hallway, in person, he said.
School officials refused to allow a Post and Courier reporter to accompany McMaster on his tour Monday, which Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, said they have a right to do.
McMaster said he plans to ask the State Law Enforcement Division to conduct further interviews before he decides whether to prosecute or pass the case to a solicitor elsewhere in the state. He said Monday he has no timetable for a decision.
Jackson again on Monday criticized McCrackin for not calling parents or talking to students individually about his suspicions before calling police, which he said should be a last resort.
"He did something injurious to children," Jackson said. "He conspired to ambush them and humiliate them. This was a source of international embarrassment that has injured this school's reputation for a long time.
Brevard, who began her education career in 1961 as a band teacher and chorus instructor at what is now Cross High School in Berkeley County, said she plans to meet with school counselors today to talk about providing counseling for students who request it.
She said her immediate focus will be on "trying to get the school healed" and earning the trust of students and teachers.
"All parents are welcome into the school. We want them to come in," she said. She invited parents, students and other residents to informal drop-ins at the school 5-7 p.m. this Wednesday and Thursday. "I want to get back to the business of educating children."
McCrackin hired Brevard in 1985 as his first assistant principal. The school now has five assistant principals.
Brevard retired in 1992, then served as interim principal of Cross High School. She came back to the district part-time in 1994 to hear student discipline cases.
She said it was only out of "great respect" for McCrackin that she accepted the job. The two embraced when Floyd made the announcement to Stratford staff on Monday, a work day without students.
"I'm confident that Stratford High is in terrific hands under her leadership," McCrackin said in his statement.
Floyd said he chose Brevard, the music director and treasurer at her church, because of her "exceptional character" and because she knows Stratford well and has experience as a principal. He did not want to promote any of the school's current assistant principals, he said, because they were "all involved and there Nov. 5," and he did not want to subject them to the same scrutiny as McCrackin.
Floyd also announced Monday the formation of a committee to review district policies and procedures. Will Helmly, executive vice president of Home Telephone Co., and Joyce Gettys, a branch manager of First Federal, will jointly lead the committee. Floyd asked them to give a full report with recommendations in 120 days and give interim reports along the way.
Staff writer Allison Bruce contributed to this report.
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