KENWOOD — Caught in a firestorm of controversy, King College Prep High School Principal Shontae Higginbottom Tuesday night tried to calm parents’ anger at an emergency Local School Council meeting after the student body protested her policies last week.
“If my priorities weren’t what you wanted them to be, I’ll be the first to apologize,” Higginbottom told about 100 parents and students in the auditorium of the selective-enrollment school at 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.
“If I’ve been behind the scenes too much, I apologize. But don’t charge it to my heart. Charge it to the fact that I’m new,” said Higginbottom, who started at the school in September.
Parents told Higginbottom they were upset that she waited five days to address a three-hour sit-in by nearly 900 students, and some now are considering pulling their students out of the school.
“I was thinking before this ever happened I wanted to send him to Jones [College Prep],” said Joe Hall, whose son is a freshman. “I love the pupils and I love the teachers. It’s the higher-ups.”
Hall and other parents said the culture at the school changed under Higginbottom, who came to King from Avalon Park Elementary. Her increased emphasis on discipline and security has been disconcerting to some parents and students.
“I have been very content with the King College Prep teachers. Whenever I need to contact them, they’ve been patient and responsive to my calls and emails,” Lissette Medina, a parent who has had three children at the school, told the LSC.
“This is a great school, but with the turn of the culture, this is not one I would recommend,” Medina said to a boisterous round of applause from parents and students.
Teachers and students said they were unhappy with a culture they claimed was subordinating white teaching staff to black faculty.
Teachers said many of their colleagues were now considering leaving the school because of the level of disrespect they allegedly had been shown by Higginbottom, including belittling and cursing at staff and faculty.
“That’s not how you manage professionals in the 21st century,” said David Hayes, the school’s only computer science teacher. The best teachers would leave first because they have the most options available to them, he added.
Higginbottom apologized for her harshness.
“Sometimes what comes out of one’s mouth is not going to be as friendly as the other person might like,” Higginbottom said. “If anyone talks back to you, you will have a slight temper when your subordinates don’t follow your directives.”
The LSC, which went into an hour-and-a-half-long closed session Tuesday night to talk about the sit-in and personnel issues, scheduled two town halls to continue the discussion.
But parent anger was clearly also directed at the elected body.
“You all asked for my vote. You stood outside and asked for my vote, and I gave it to you,” yelled Reginald Lomax, a parent upset that a college fair was canceled this year and that the LSC was not more proactive in addressing concerns about Higginbottom.
Higginbottom declined to comment on the firing of basketball coach James McKatherine and his subsequent arrest for allegedly threatening her with battery.