ConVal School District: Principal finalist had suit on record

  • Shannon Mayfield, seen here in a still image from a documentary titled "Campaign for Change: Stories of the Allentown School District," was not offered the principal job at ConVal High School despite being one of two finalists. COURTESY IMAGE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, June 15, 2017

Editor’s note: An incomplete version of this story was published in the June 15 print edition. Here is the full story.

The second finalist for the ConVal High School principal position, who was vetted out of 100 applicants by a national search firm and a school committee, wasn’t offered the job because of a 2012 lawsuit, according to Superintendent Kim Saunders.

Shannon Mayfield, a former principal at high schools in Pennsylvania with at least 11 years of administrative experience, was one of two finalists picked by the school’s committee, after Ray and Associates Inc., a nationwide school executive search company, helped pare the pool of applicants down to 11. The two finalists — Mayfield and Michael Tenters — toured the school in May. Tenters was offered the position but declined for personal reasons. 

Instead of offering Mayfield the job, the district decided to reset its search.

“Our process includes a full vetting and third-party background check and during that process, it came to light that there was a lawsuit (that Mayfield was involved in) over the handling of a student issue in another school district,” Saunders said of the decision.

Saunders didn’t elaborate on the suit, although she said it was issued out of a court system in Pennsylvania and involved a student.

A search in the Pennsylvania court system brings up one suit involving Mayfield, who was an assistant principal at Manheim Township High School at the time. According to the suit, Mayfield and a police officer questioned a student who was acting oddly during a May 2012 post-prom party. Andrew Dissinger denied that he had been drinking, although he agreed to a breathalyzer test that registered a blood-alcohol level of .04.

Mayfield suspended Dissinger for 60 days for violating school policy, denying him the ability to attend the high school commencement ceremony with the rest of his classmates.

The family challenged the suspension, arguing that it as invalid because it was imposed without offering Dissinger an opportunity to be heard in from of the school board, which is guaranteed under a public school code.

A county court backed the school district’s decision, but a state court overturned the ruling stating that the district didn’t follow proper procedure.

“A hearing process ruled on a technicality in favor of the family,” Mayfield said about the case.

Mayfield said there were many others involved in the suit, including the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and principal at the time, and they have all gone on to be promoted within the state school system.

Mayfield said he was surprised to hear the suit was the reason why he wasn’t hired for the position.

“I didn’t say anything about it because I didn’t have anything to tell,” Mayfield said about the case. “It’s not a big deal. The other parties involved have not had any problems with being hired or promoted to other positions because of this.”

He said he wished someone had asked him about the suit during the hiring process, so he could have explained the situation.

“It’s nothing I’m hiding from or ashamed of,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield said he was never given a reason why he wasn’t offered the position.

“I was told I was viewed in high regard, but that I’m not an option at this time,” Mayfield said.

Sheila Bay Harvey, of Peterborough, met Mayfield in downtown Peterborough while he was touring the community. Mayfield told her that he was one of two candidates left in the ConVal high school principal search, and was looking at real estate to relocate his family in the instance that he was hired.

“He is this amazing, sensitive person and I thought, ‘no wonder he got picked out of all of those applicants,’” Harvey said in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript.

But then Harvey didn’t get the job, and when she read an article that Mayfield wasn’t offered the position even after the top candidate declined, something didn’t add up. 

Harvey raised the question in a letter-to-the-editor if Mayfield was disregarded because of his race. Mayfield is black.

“He is a gentleman, a scholar and would make a great principal of ConVal,” Harvey said in the letter. “I sincerely hope that ConVal’s negative decision was not because of the color of his skin?”

Saunders said the decision had “absolutely nothing to do with race.” 

Mayfield said he didn’t assume racism, but that there’s always a question when the situation isn’t completely transparent.

“You always want whatever closure to be clean and you don’t want it to be doubtful,” Mayfield said.

“In my case, I’m not bitter (about the process at ConVal), it was just an unusual end to a professional process.”

The process continues for ConVal as Gib West, who was serving as the dean of faculty before Brian Pickering abruptly left late last year, will continue as interim principal until March, when the district hopes to hire a new principal.

Ray and Associates will start the search again in November. The district paid $15,000 for the service, which covers all costs until the position is filled. 

“We’re fortunate that we have an experienced and strong administrative team that we can go back out and start this process again,” Saunders said.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com. Follow her on Twitter @akesslerMLT.