By: Scott Bolejack
The crowd gathered outside the Johnston County Board of Education meeting room on Tuesday shouted “Bring him back. Bring him back. Bring him back.”
The “him” was Bennett Jones, who was principal of Clayton High School until he suddenly wasn’t this week.
Jones’ transfer to the school system’s central office on Monday was unexpected, unpopular and came without explanation, said Melissa Lines, the mother of two Clayton High School students.
“Yesterday as parents, we got the phone call — it was an automated phone call — that told us Bennett Jones would no longer be principal of Clayton High School,” Lines said on Tuesday.
Lines said the phone call offered no explanation for the move. “And that’s why we’re upset,” she said of parents and students who came to Smithfield on Tuesday for the school board meeting.
Lines said she emailed Superintendent Ross Renfrow seeking an explanation but failed to get a satisfactory answer.
“Thank you for your email in support of Dr. Jones,” the superintendent wrote to Lines. “Please know that we do not take matters of this nature lightly. I wish I could offer more but cannot due to personnel constraints.”
On Tuesday, Renfrow declined comment when asked whether Jones’ transfer was related to an investigation into allegations of grade fixing at Clayton High. He referred questions to the school system’s human resources chief, Brian Vetrano, who said he could not comment because it was a personnel matter.
Lines, the parent, said she had heard about the allegations of grade fixing. “From what we can understand, those were all proven false,” she said. “They were nothing.”
Lines said her experience with Jones suggested anything but a principal willing to change grades to help athletes. When her older son, a football player, was struggling in a class last year, Jones gave him extra classwork, not an altered grade, she said.
“That kid worked three hours a night for weeks straight, because he knew what he had to do to pass the class,” Lines said. “He was not given any handouts.”
Lines said Jones’ transfer made no sense to her and other parents. “He was Principal of the Year last year,” she noted. “So how do you go from being principal to being removed with no explanation?”