Elizabeth Crook, a teacher at E.T. Booth Middle School, spoke out at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting on behalf of the group of teachers about the surprise attendance of Post 3 Board member Michael Geist at a meeting in March.
Crook said her group was asked by Heather Blevins, a member of Cherokee Charter Academy’s local governing council, to meet with board members of Cherokee Citizens for the Kids at their March 26 meeting.
Crook said Geist showed up, told them he was there as a mediator and began to question those in attendance about who worked for the local school system.
Geist, however, disagrees with her account of the meeting and says he did nothing wrong.
The advocacy group, whose mission is to maintain the quality offerings of Cherokee’s public education system, agreed to meet with Blevins because it is the group’s policy to meet with all interested parties, Crook said.
“Three other board members and I were surprised when a school board member attended a private meeting without an invitation or any prior knowledge on our part that he would be attending,” Crook said to the board of education Thursday.
Crook did not identify Geist by name in her address to the board, but did in her letter submitted to the board of education members Thursday night.
Geist said Friday he was invited to the meeting by Blevins as a fellow Cherokee Charter Academy parent and, to his knowledge, neither group discussed who would be in attendance.
Crook said Geist announced at the meeting he was present as a “mediator” and then asked which of the board members were school district employees.
Geist denied those claims and said he did not remember saying anything about mediating.
“I said I was there because I shared common interest with both groups,” Geist said in an interview Friday. “(Blevins) was concerned … since some individuals claiming to be members of (Citizens for the Kids) have shown some hostility towards Cherokee Charter Academy in the past.”
Geist said other than Michele Dodge, president of Citizens for the Kids, he did not know any of the board members present.
“In asking whether they worked for the district, I was only trying to be cordial,” Geist said. “By all appearances the meeting ended on a very friendly note and it is hard not to wonder whether this issue was manufactured after the fact to score political points with those who might be inclined to believe it.”
The group believed the alleged actions of Geist were a conflict of interest on the part of the school board member and “an act of intimidation toward us,” Crook said.
Geist said his role as a board member is strictly limited to policy making.
“I have no role in the day-to-day operations of the system including personnel matters,” he said. “There is no reason for any employee of the system to ever be intimidated by me. I find it very sad that we now have a political climate where what was intended to be a friendly meeting to help dispel rumor and foster understanding between two groups who claim to have similar goals is being characterized in this way.”
Crook said she came to the board because she, along with three other teachers who were present at the meeting, had filed letters with their respective supervisors. She said not all had received written confirmation of the request and felt the information needed to be on record.
Crook would not say which of the teachers had not received confirmation, but said district teachers Emma Griffin, Susan Dreschel and Dodge also filed letters for their personnel files.
In nearly identical letters submitted to the board, Crook and Griffin said charter academy parent Adrienne Slade also attended the meeting and said the appearance of the two uninvited guests was “highly irregular.”
“While I was not personally intimidated by Mr. Geist, I feel his presence and his questions about our status as employees of the Board of Education could have been construed as intimidating,” Crook wrote in the letter.
Geist said he maintains his presence at the meeting was supposed to help foster better relations between the two groups.
“If members of the community can’t even talk to each other without either side trying to turn it into a political advantage, how are we ever going to find common ground?” Geist said.
Blevins did not return calls to the Tribune by press time.