Alexander humbled by local support

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Handmade signs reading "Welcome Back Mr. Alexander" and "EHS: Ed High School" greeted Elizabethton High School Principal Edwin Alexander upon his return to work Friday morning following a three-day suspension.
   Alexander spent a portion of the morning moving his desk and personal effects back into his office at EHS on Monday.
   "My focus now is on the job at hand," said Alexander, who spoke with the Star at his residence on Thursday afternoon shortly after being reinstated as principal.
   "I just exclude the things that happened from my mind at this point," he said. "We've got to get ready and wrap up the sports seasons, and we've got to get the seniors ready to graduate and get their diplomas."
   Alexander was suspended from his job on Monday, school administrators said, as the result of a grievance filed by another high school instructor. The dismissal touched off a furor among many students and parents who protested outside the high school and the system's central office for three days. Several seniors said they would refuse to attend the graduation ceremony on May 26 if Alexander was not there.
   Businesses downtown posted signs in their windows in support of Alexander. Protests continued until Thursday afternoon when students received word that the principal's suspension had been lifted. Phillippi Baptist Church held a celebration jubilee on Saturday afternoon to honor Alexander's return to the school.
   Alexander said he was advised his suspension was lifted shortly before noon Thursday following a meeting with the director of schools.
   A 28-year veteran of the high school and principal since 1992, Alexander has watched 11 senior classes walk the stage and say good-bye during his tenure as principal. Visibly relieved while sitting in his living room Thursday afternoon, Alexander expressed his deep gratitude to students and citizens for their support during the week. He also appeared to be at a loss to explain the size of the community outcry over his suspension.
   "There is no way I can live up the expectations that people think I merit for whatever reason," said Alexander. "I am so thankful -- so many people have been so kind."
   After school dismissed on Thursday, dozens of students and some parents journeyed to Alexander's residence to welcome him back. Alexander talked to the well-wishers in his front yard thanking all and accepting hugs and handshakes from many.
   One of those parents, Valerie Redd, said she called her son -- graduating senior Vince Redd -- after she heard the news of Alexander's reinstatement from suspension on Thursday.
   "He said, 'Mom, is it over?' " she said. "I said yes, and he said 'Thank God.' "
   Alexander said he simply wanted to fade back into the role of principal. Despite the taxing events of the week, the principal repeatedly stressed that finishing the school year and seeing academic and social events through were now top priorities. The annual Honors Day awards ceremony and another ceremony honoring the seniors ranked in the top 10 percent of academic achievers were two major events on the schedule before the school year ended.
   "All I want to do is immerse myself in the job, and do the job and try to live up the kids' expectations," he said.
   In typical Alexander aplomb, he also said students who were assessed detention for unexcused absences to protest his suspension should serve any accrued detention time and make up any missed school work immediately.
   "Those who have missed work will have the opportunity to make it up," he said.
   The past week saw high school students exercise their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. Students praised Alexander's patience, fairness and his interest in them as people rather than simply a group of students. While the students' willingness to protest over his suspension confounded Alexander to some extent, he said the students' ability to organize, lead and articulate their views did not surprise him.
   "You have to have faith in the younger generation," he said. "If we don't have faith that our kids are going to be contributors, we are doing them and ourselves a great disservice."