MHS principal takes sick leave

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Marmaduke School District has been without an elementary principal for several weeks following the suspension and ultimate termination of Jim Bob Lentz.

Now the district also has no high school principal.

Don Purcell, who has held the position for the past 13 years, announced Monday to faculty and staff he is going on "stress related sick leave."

Purcell said he attended Thursday night's public hearing that resulted in the Lentz termination and then got about three hours sleep that night.

He was at work until noon Friday and left for a doctor's appointment.

Purcell said he arrived at the school Monday and told interim superintendent Debbie Smith about his plans to go on leave. He then notified faculty and staff through a letter.

When contacted by the Democrat Monday night, Purcell said the atmosphere has been "tension-filled" at the school since the resignation in November of long-time superintendent Jerry Don McIntosh.

"I just didn't feel like I could continue to function in that environment," Purcell said.

"Everyone is looking over their shoulder, worried about what they say and who they say it to...no one seems comfortable and relaxed in that environment."

Purcell said the tension has been building up for him for some time and reached its limit with the decision Thursday night by the Marmaduke School Board to terminate Lentz. "The issue of Mr. Lentz has thoroughly traumatized the school," he said.

"It was obvious to me that the whole thing was based on retaliation," Purcell said. "Odds and ends were brought up that go back 30 years and then suddenly it became an issue.

"The school board surprised me with their decision," he added. "I was actually hoping for a different outcome."

Concerning the Board's decision, Purcell said "I will say that I am not walking in their shoes, but then they are not walking in mine, either."

Purcell said he is going to take some time to "rest, recuperate and reflect."

He said the school had a "great working environment" until the last few months and he was proud of the accomplishments of the district.

"There were some up and downs, but overall it was very good," he said.

Purcell said he has no specific information about an apparent ongoing investigation by the State Department of Education into operational issues with the Marmaduke district.

"I just don't have any idea what they are looking into," he said. "No one has contacted me. I just hear the same rumors as everyone else."

The veteran administrator said he will re-evaluate his situation in May and consider his future. He said it is unlikely he will return to work in Marmaduke and he is "leaning" toward complete retirement. "I am just going to keep my options open for now," he said.

Purcell currently is in his 38th year in education, having served previously in Mountain Home, Greene County Tech, Oak Grove and Southland (Mo.).

He plans to "piddle around" on the farm near Paragould that has been in his family since 1846 (part of it since 1830), play some golf and relax.

He said he is fortunate to be able to do this rather than have to continue working in the environment he described. "Some are not so fortunate," he said.

"I guess you can say this is one time it's good to be old," he said. Purcell will be 60 in June.

This is the text of the letter he distributed Monday to faculty and staff at the school:

"It is with regret that I inform you that I am going on stress related sick leave. My doctor has advised me to temporarily remove myself from stressful situations if I wish to live a long life. I intend to spend the remainder of this school year relaxing, and enjoying stress reducing activities. I am not certain at this time about my long range plans. I will make a decision about my plans for next year by the end of May.

"The past 13 years have been most enjoyable. I have been very fortunate to work with a staff of your caliber. I wish all of you the best, and I hope you will pull together and ovecome the turmoil of the past few months. I will always remember each of you, and I shall miss you. God Bless."

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