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Salmon High School principal not granted tenure by school board

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FORT COVINGTON - Salmon River Central School District High School Principal Alison Benedict was not granted tenure during a special meeting of the school board Thursday night, but Ms. Benedict will still have a position within the district.

Four people spoke out in support of Ms. Benedict before the board made its final decision.

Michele Mitchell, general attorney for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, cited the Native American Tuition Contract in her comments.

“Salmon River Central School District and the tribe reached a contract for the school and district to work with the tribe,” she said. “ ...[Not granting Ms. Benedict tenure] seems to go against the contract to provide education to [Mohawk] children.”

Board President Christopher Nye countered the board fully supports the district’s diversity.

“I feel very proud to be part of Salmon River Central,” he said after the public comment section of the meeting was closed. “[The board] works hard to promote the Mohawk language and culture.”

Mr. Nye commented on the criticism the board wembers received regarding Ms. Benedict’s tenure decision.

“We are all [member of the board] volunteers, but I guess no good deed goes unpunished,” he said.

The board proceeded into executive session to discuss Ms. Benedict’s tenure. An emotional Ms. Benedict declined comment while waiting for the board to return from executive session.

Once executive session concluded, the public was informed that the board had accepted Ms. Benedict’s resignation as high school principal effective Aug. 3 and granted her an English instructional support teacher position with a two-year probationary period.

“[To obtain this position] a person needs to be certified to teach in English Language Arts,” said Superintendent of Schools Jane Collins after the meeting was adjourned. “[This position] is used to assist students with academic intervention services and assist teachers and principals with the analysis of student data and the promotion of the Regents reform agenda.”

Mr. Nye said he could not disclose the concerns that factored in the board’s decision due to Benedict’s right to confidentiality.

“[The board’s reasons] are valid and sound and have nothing to do with race,” Mr. Nye said. “[Benedict’s] attorney asserted that there was a violation of the law but that’s absolutely not true.”

He also noted that Ms. Mitchell’s concern about a violation of contract was inaccurate and he was distressed by past allegations of racism concerning Ms. Benedict’s tenure.

“[That act] does not force the board to hire based on race – that would be illegal to have a contract promising to hire people of a certain race based solely on race,” said Mr. Nye. “That would violate the New York State Constitution. That would be illegal and immoral.”

Mr. Nye said Ms. Benedict’s appointment to a new position and resignation as principal were reached through mutual agreement during negotiations. “We work hard to promote diversity at SRC,” said Mr. Nye. “The idea that the tribe sent a sub-chief to badger is offensive.”

According to Mr. Nye, state education law requires a two-thirds majority vote for the tenure of a person in an administrative position. During the board’s June 24 meeting, the board voted 5 to 4 in favor of Benedict’s tenure, one vote short of the two-thirds majority.

“The board granted [Benedict] tenure at the June 24 meeting,” said St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Sub-Chief Michael Connors. “The tribe fully backs Benedict as principal.”

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