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Benton Harbor moms voice frustrations with school district

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- With their current superintendent on non-disciplinary leave and their former superintendent behind bars for misusing school funds, three Benton Harbor moms want to see change.

“Communication is nonexistent with the superintendent and the parents,” said Antquanetta Dawkins.

“She portrayed this person, but her actions didn’t follow her words,” said Apollonia Ellis. “And I ended up pulling my kids from the school system.”

“When certain things have taken place, I’ve tried to reach out to her,” said Shirley Hodges. “She never returned my phone calls, never returned a text message, anything. She gave me her personal information and she never responded back to me.”

All three moms are talking about Benton Harbor Superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker, who was placed on non-disciplinary paid leave last week by the school board.

Each mom said in an interview on Tuesday that they’d like to see Walker leave the district.

Hodges has two children enrolled at Benton Harbor High School and another in fifth grade.

She said her main concern is safety at the high school; especially since former principal Rodger Tripplett was let go.

“There’s not enough security guards,” Hodges said. “Like when Mr. Tripplett was there, they had the ‘Restore the Roar’ program where kids would sit down and talk about everything, sign agreements, so that this way stuff wouldn’t happen later on down the road. And now there’s nothing there for the kids, so they don’t feel safe.”

Ellis said Walker’s leadership led her to remove two of her three kids from their hometown school district.

She has one child still attending Benton Harbor High School, because she wanted to.

“I had three children in the school system at first,” Ellis said. “But when things started going down, I took two of them out and I currently pay for them to go to school.”

Dawkins, who has a son in first grade, said parents like her feel they don’t have a voice when working with Walker.

“She came in giving us a perception of one person, and we got a totally different person,” Dawkins said.

All three moms said they’re concerned about the teacher shortage in Benton Harbor. But each said they pin the blame for that, and everything else, on Dr. Walker.

The women said they still support the school board because they said they feel the board members have their kids’ best interests in mind, in ways Walker does not.

The Benton Harbor Area Schools Board is meeting on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. for the first time since placing Walker on leave. ABC57’s Taurean Small is there and will have a full report on ABC57 News at 10 and 11 p.m. on Tuesday night.

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