Many difficult decisions have been made concerning the consolidation of north Webster Parish schools, and one employee feels the decision to remove him from a head coaching position was based on race and age rather than merit.
"When we start favoring politics in the school system we are not doing the best thing for our students," said Kermitt Walker, now an assistant basketball coach for the girl's and boy's team at North Webster High.
Walker, who is African American, feels his position of head basketball coach at Springhill was taken away because of his race and retirement age.
Walker said he was told he was offered the position of assistant coach because one head coach from each consolidating community would continue to be head coach at the new school.
"I was told with all my years of experience I would be a good asset as an assistant coach to help the head coaches of the boys and girls basketball," Walker said. "But I also took a pay cut on top of that. I have been at Springhill for over 20 years, which is longer than either one of the head coaches."
Walker said if the gesture to provide guidance as an assistant coach had been made in earnest – without the pay cut – he would have gladly accepted the assistant coach position.
"I would have felt valued if they had done that and been fine with it, but I feel with 20 years at the school, my pay should stay the same," Walker said. "I feel like he (Principal Jeff Franklin) is trying to make me leave the program."
Walker said he does not have anything against the other coaches and supports the placement of head coaches with ample experience.
"They (coaches) are not the ones who made this decision," Walkers said. "I just feel that the positions should have been appointed by right or merit rather than trying to please each community; because that makes it about politics and not the kids or the athletics.
"I feel like you work on the job and work your way up, some young kid with less experience shouldn't be able to take that away from you," he continued.
Walker said he has noticed another negative side effect to the coaching assignments.
"I have heard of kids saying they are not going to play and parents are saying they don't blame the kids," he said. "I really hate to see that, especially because I taught a lot of the kids' parents."
North Webster High School Principal Jeff Franklin said he has not heard any comments similar to what Walker has heard.
"I really doubt when all the dust settles that any of the players will refuse to play for another coach," Franklin said. "In my years in education, I have discovered that students will work together and make the best of any situation as long as adults stay out of the controversies."
Franklin said coaching assignments at North Webster High School were made so that at least one head coach from each of the former schools consolidated to form North Webster High School continued to be head coach.
"I have been working very hard since the day I found out I would be principal at North Webster High School to make the melding of four high schools into one as smooth and painless as possible," Franklin said. "Every school will lose its identity as we mold into one new school. Old traditions will be gone and new ones will be born. There will be new students, teachers, principals and coaches as we move forward."
Franklin asks everyone involved keep an open mind.
"Give everything a little time to work all the rough spots out," he said. "When all is said and done, I am very sure the students of North Webster High School will succeed in the classroom, on the athletic court or field, and, most importantly, in the game of life."
Interim Superintendent Jackie Sharp understands Walker's views while supporting Franklin's decision.
"It is simply impossible for every coach to have the exact same position he had in the previous configuration of four separate schools," Sharp said. "Mr. Franklin had to weigh many factors when choosing the head coach for each sport.
"He made the decision for each sport with the best interests of the school and the students in mind," she continued. "It was a judgment call on his part, and that is his responsibility as principal."
According to Franklin, combining four schools into one proved challenging when it came to assigning positions.
"I actually interviewed all the coaches assigned to North Webster High School – not just basketball coaches – before making decisions on who would be placed in various positions," Franklin said. "The final decisions were based on who I thought would be best for each sport in the entire school."
Franklin said the support of teachers, coaches, students, parents and the community is needed to make the consolidation plan work.
"Mr. Walker was not the only person to lose a head coaching position," he continued. "In fact, a coach with more seniority than him (Walker) had responsibility taken away, as well."
Walker feels that consolidation should have happened decades ago and said he is happy to see it happen, but maintained his opinion that positions should be awarded by seniority and that communication should be improved.
"To this day, he has still not contacted me about this," Walker said of Franklin. "All I wanted was an explanation from him, and I have had to hear things from other people.
"A lot of my frustration could have been avoided if he had just spoken with me up front about it and been able to provide valid reasons for my new position," Walker said.