(09/01/2005)
PRINCIPAL QUITS AT ARNOLDSBURG

By David Hedges
Publisher, Times Record-Roane County Reporter

The resignation of Dr. Gene Rizzo as principal at Arnoldsburg Elementary School only three days into the school year brought mixed reactions.

"I think it's very unfortunate," said Calhoun County Superintendent of Schools Ron Blankenship.

"I'm tickled to death," said Brenda Holcomb, who has five grandchildren who attend the school.

Rizzo's hiring a few weeks before school started stirred controversy as some parents and community members raised concerns over his past criminal record which included a jail term for unlawfully entering the home of a school secretary who was his former girlfriend.

Several parents threatened to keep their children out of school if Rizzo was principal.

When students reported for the first day of school Friday, Rizzo wasn't there. Blankenship filled in as Rizzo worked at the county office. Blankenship was at the school again Monday and Larry Stinn, former Pleasant Hill Elementary principal who now works in the county office as director of federal programs, was at Arnoldsburg Tuesday.

Parents who had threatened to picket the governor's office Thursday postponed those plans after learning Rizzo would not be at the school Friday. They had also discussed pickets at the school, but Holcomb said that idea was rejected. "We voted it down because we didn't want to upset the children," she said.

Rizzo gave his resignation to Blankenship Tuesday morning, to be effective that day.

"He thought it would be best for all concerned and I'll honor his wishes," said Blankenship.

The school that serves about 240 students from pre-school through 4th grade does not have an assistant principal, and Blankenship said he and other county office staff will fill in until a new principal is hired.

"One of us will stop by daily and make sure everything is OK," he said. "And they can always call us if there is a problem."

Blankenship said the position will be reposted and he hopes to have a recommendation for a replacement by the next school board meeting on Sept. 19.

Lee Evans, a former Calhoun County teacher and school board member, said changes in hiring procedures are needed.

"Our board of education needs to do a more thorough background check," Evans said. "This was totally preventable."

The information about Rizzo apparently came to light when parents began checking his name on the Internet and found articles about his criminal trial ... Full story www.thetimesrecord.net


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