BRIDGEPORT — It is a case to decide if a veteran city principal used excessive force in handling kindergarteners but the Carmen Perez Dickson termination hearing has also revealed some stuff members of the city school board didn’t know, like just what does Shively Willingham, a special assistant for safety, security & climate do.
Board members Bobby Simmons and Sauda Baraka both made it clear during the session held Friday evening they thought Willingham was in charge of security for the school district. Turns out he’s not.
The board – not the attorneys in the case – had pushed to have WIllingham called as a witness. They had questions about school security protocol they thought he could answer.
Willingham told him his role was limited. A former Philadelphia principal, Willingham was brought to the district shortly after the arrival of Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas.
Willingham’s job, he testified, is to provide technical support, train staff, perform security assessments of schools and be a liaison between the school district, community and city police department.
Protocol for reporting incidents in a timely manner, he said, has improved since partnering with the city police but is still very much a work in progress.
As such, Willingham said he had little to say when it came to what Tisdale School security guards knew and who they told — or should of told — when it came to reporting alleged incidents of abuse at the hands of Dickson.
Willingham said Don Kennedy, chief operating officer (who has since left the district to work in Boston), and James Nealy, then director of security and school police (he too has left the district), were supervisors of school security staff. Not him.
“I’m confused,” Baraka told him.
Willingham was the administration liaison to the school board’s safety committee and if Baraka had a question about security she went to him, not Kennedy.
Also, it was him, not Kennedy or Nealy who went with Sandra Kase, then chief administrative officer of the district, to speak with Dickson in the spring of 2012 after parents went to the district with complains about the principal.
Turns out, Willingham didn’t remember much about the meeting. He said he didn’t recall many of the specifics about the complaints made about Dickson, that she supposedly made fun of a student’s name, ignored bullying complaints or was being verbally or physically abusive to students. He did recall a complaint about Dickson not being welcoming but didn’t recall the exact words used.
He said Kase was doing most of the talking.
“We wanted to get (Dickson’s) take on it,” Willingham testified. He said he was there to offer his professional opinion if asked. In his opinion, true or not, “perception is everything,”