After Abrupt Resignation, Community Moves On From Parsons

Nicolette Peterson and Cecelia Messbauer

The positions are mostly filled, and the dust is beginning to settle, but the reverberations of the sudden resignation of former Math teacher and Residential Advisor Caleb Parsons at the beginning of April are still present in large swaths of the MacDuffie community, and likely will be for some time.

Parsons had taught Geometry and Seventh Grade Math, classes that are major components of many students’ early education at MacDuffie. He had brought an ambitious programming elective to life and supervised numerous popular clubs, including this year’s Gaming club. He was a long-time residential advisor and point person, and the faculty point person of the sophomore class.

High profile faculty departures from MacDuffie are hardly without precedent, but the abruptness of the resignation set off a momentary scramble to cover Parsons’ responsibilities for the remaining months of the year, and the gravity with which Head of School Steven Griffin made clear to the school that speculation about the reasons for his departure would be fruitless and potentially slanderous to current or former students left a startled community in its wake.

The turmoil hit hardest on Parsons’ math classes. “I was in his class and they left us with absolutely nothing,” says ninth grade geometry student Maya Levine. Griffin reached out to retired Assistant Head of School Tom Addicks, who provided emergency services for the week following the resignation and prepared lessons for the next week, but was thereafter unavailable. Proctors supervised math classes for two additional weeks, with Residential Advisor Isaiah Fariel taking on many of the sections, until former science teacher Craig Woolley was hired to cover those math sections for the remainder of the year.

“I came over to talk to Mr. Griffin and [Science Department Head Tina] Hamel about possibly coming back part-time next year to teach in the science department and Mr. Griffin asked me if I wanted to teach [math] part-time starting the following week,” Woolley says, laughing. “So I said, let me think about that for a day or so, and then I said yes.”

According to Levine, the delay has been damaging.  “When we had [Mr.] Parsons we progressed really quickly,” she says, “and then we just missed like two and a half weeks. So we’re definitely way behind, and that doesn’t bode well for exams.”

Nine grader Mehmet Tuncer concurred. “We had to wait for a new math teacher to come, so we are very far behind from the other classes.”

Woolley also recognizes the challenges of catching up to the material. “We’re going to have to speed up things a little bit for exams,” he says. “We’re almost a whole chapter behind geometry classes compared to Mr. Shelburne’s classes. So I’m not sure how we’re going to make that up, we might have to skip a few things to cover the most important stuff.”  He says the exams will probably be modified to account for the difference.

Wooley says he will “possibly” return in some capacity next year. “I can’t work full time anymore; if they have something part-time, I might come back. I miss [MacDuffie], I’ll admit it.”

Griffin says that long-term solutions to Parsons’ vacancies will be part of a routine evaluation of hiring needs after the the academic year concludes.

Parsons’ departure also shook the boarding department, where he had been one of Residential Advisors for Tift, along along with Fariel, Nick Lorenzen, and Matthew Castle, who now manage the dorm in with a three-person rotation.He was a point person for the campus on weekends in alternation with Zachary Hensley.

“[Physical Education teacher Jacque] Rivera is the point person on the weekends that Mr. Parsons had,” says Dean of Boarding Dina Lyman. “[Assistant Dean of Boarding Dettey] Bielizna is also helping out, occasionally being the point person. She and Mr. Rivera are sharing it, and Mr. Rivera is on duty in the dorms so he stays on campus on the nights that he is on duty in the dorms when Mr. Parsons would have been.

Point duties involve support for unexpected logistical issues within the boarding department. “For example, we have some kids traveling for AAU and college visits and stuff like that,” says Lyman. “So we’ve got two kids coming back [that] ran into problems. Their planes were canceled, and things happened with their bus tickets. So they communicate directly with the duty phone, which is carried by the point person.” She expresses confidence in Rivera’s taking on the role. “The good thing about Mr. Rivera is that he already knew the kids,” she says. “He had already been an RA, so there were no bumps.”

Parsons’ programming course has been picked up by IT Director Ed Gray, who says he will teach it for the rest of the year, with a separate Mobile Computer Science Principles elective taught by Math teacher Peter Shelburne already approved for next year. Shelburne has also taken over the role of sophomore team leader.

The gaming club is now advised by Francois Cressotti, and Fariel has taken on Parsons’ advisees.