Northwest Board Meeting

A near-standing-room-only crowd listens in on the Northwest Board of Education meeting Monday night. Members of the public urged the board to delay or reject the resignation of Chapman Principal Jeff Ellsworth, but the board unanimously voted to approve it. (Independent/Austin Koeller)

After emotional public comments to delay or reject the resignation of Chapman School Principal Jeff Ellsworth, the Northwest Board of Education voted unanimously to accept it.

Superintendent Jeff Edwards said Ellsworth’s resignation will be effective at the end of the 2019-20 school year. He has been principal at Chapman School since the start of the 2007-08 school year.

Ellsworth has also taught physical education for two years, following the board’s April 2018 decision to eliminate a PE position in the district, which ended up being the position at Chapman School.

The board had no discussion or comments on the resignation. However, in voting to accept Ellsworth’s resignation, board member Mike Shafer, a former Northwest High School teacher, said he did so “with a heavy heart.”

Not much reason has been given as to why Ellsworth chose to resign. When he was asked about it by The Independent last Friday, Ellsworth said it was due to “a disagreement with the district.”

“I just decided it was time to move on,” he said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Chapman School parent Holly Yager said she wasn’t buying the idea that Ellsworth resigned willingly and urged the board to delay a decision.

“I honestly do not feel like this man has submitted his resignation voluntarily. I don’t think anything that has happened within the last three years would make somebody get up and decide one day, after everything, that he wants to be done. I would encourage you to look a little further into what is going on before you make a decision tonight.”

At times during Monday night’s meeting, Ellsworth appeared to be trying hard to maintain his composure, wiping away tears from his eyes at various moments, getting hugs from a number of students and allowing them to sit on his lap.

Yager also took issue with Business Manager Sharon Placke’s response to The Independent’s question of whether or not Ellsworth’s position would be filled. She told The Independent last Friday that since Ellsworth’s resignation is for the end of the school year, the district will evaluate what positions need to be hired for this spring. At that time, Ellsworth’s position could potentially be filled.

“It is ominous foreshadowing in the newspaper that Mr. Ellsworth’s position could ‘potentially be filled,’” Yager said. “It is very disheartening and is disturbing to those of us who have put so much time and effort into the school and love it.”

One woman in the audience directly questioned the board about whether it intended to fill Ellsworth’s position. Board President Dan Leiser responded that the board would not give an answer to her question at that time. The board typically does not respond to public comments.

Chapman parent Liz Gamblin, whose husband and mother-in-law both teach at Chapman School, urged the board to look further “into the issues that are going on.”

“I don’t know the issues that are going on, but I know that a loss of Jeff Ellsworth would be detrimental to the students of both the Northwest district and to Chapman,” she said.

Chapman parent Kristina Vlcek voiced her support for Ellsworth.

“I am really sorry to see him go,” she said. “I know that he always had kids first in his heart and my own kids are very sad to see him go. I want to thank him for everything he has done for us.”

Ellsworth said last Friday that his resignation “just came about,” meaning he has not yet looked for further employment.

For the record

In other action, the Northwest board:

— Voted to approve a resolution to form a cooperative between Northwest, Grand Island Central Catholic and Wood River for boys and girls soccer. Prior to the vote, the board heard a presentation from Northwest soccer coaches Ann Purdy and Dan Purdy, Northwest Athletic Director Mike Sorensen and GICC head soccer coach John Kenna about the cooperative.

— Continued its discussions on district configuration as it applies to implementing a middle-school structure in the district.

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