The Scarlet Letter

Someone penned an anonymous letter making damning allegations about Normandy High School principal Alvin Smith. He blames it on a disgruntled ex-employee out to take him down. Trouble is, some of the letter is true.

The paralegal says she placed phone calls to both girls identified in the letter, one of whom is still a student at Normandy and one who is not. "I was never able to reach them after many phone calls. I left numerous messages with people," Ormsby says, but no one called her back. She says she did not want to question the girl who is still a student at Normandy without a parent or guardian's permission.

Ormsby also spoke to Normandy's former director of secondary education to determine whether the meeting described in the letter, involving the girl who claimed Smith tried to fondle her breast, took place. "He said there was absolutely no truth to the allegations being made," Ormsby says.

She concluded the allegations were "unsubstantiated." She prepared a report for the superintendent on Nov. 12.

“We’d like Alvin Smith to face the music he deserves to hear. Or we’d like it to be proven that he is innocent.” — Kenneth Gibert, attorney for former Normandy instructor Horace Humphries
“We’d like Alvin Smith to face the music he deserves to hear. Or we’d like it to be proven that he is innocent.” — Kenneth Gibert, attorney for former Normandy instructor Horace Humphries

Armstrong says he forwarded Ormsby's memo to members of the board but declined to go into detail about how the report was handled, saying personnel matters are "closed matters." Neither Ormsby nor Crotzer ever met with the school board to discuss it, but Armstrong says he discussed the matter with the board -- though he will not say when.

Smith has continued in the top post at Normandy High, and Armstrong praises his work, describing him as an "outstanding leader" who, he hopes, has helped move the school district closer to becoming fully accredited.

"We have more parental involvement that we've ever had. Our graduation rate has increased. Mr. Smith has expanded the use of technology and access to technology at Normandy. We have more accountability built into our high school when it comes to our staff, more than we've ever had," Armstrong says.

And all those issues are critical in a district like Normandy, a district in North County that serves more than 3,200 students annually and employs nearly 400 people. The school district received only "provisional" accreditation from the state when it was last reviewed in 1995-96. It is due for another in-depth review in the fall.

Around the same time as Ormsby's inquiry, Horace Humphries says, he began hearing from other teachers that Smith suspected him of writing the letter. Humphries is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who joined the staff of Normandy High School in the summer of 1993. He served 27 years in the military, his last post as the director of security and intelligence at Scott Air Force Base. As director of Normandy's junior-ROTC program, he worked with two noncommissioned officers, teaching an estimated 200 students each year.

Normandy's ROTC program is funded partly by the school and partly by the Air Force, which split the cost of Humphries' annual salary. But it falls under the realm of the school district, which has the sole authority to terminate Humphries' employment. Humphries says he has seen the benefits of junior ROTC in the lives of teenagers: "I'm always seeing parents come up to me and saying, 'Thank you for saving my kid.' When kids come into the program in September, we teach discipline the first couple of days. They say, 'I want to get out.' Then, after they get the kick of it, three weeks later, you can't run them out. Kids tend to want discipline, believe it or not. There is no doubt in my mind that junior-ROTC programs are making better citizens."

Humphries says that when he was initially hired, the school had a different principal, the district a different superintendent. After Alvin Smith was hired, Humphries says, the two men repeatedly clashed, but he says his job appeared secure, and the assistant principal assigned to do his performance reviews repeatedly gave him favorable reviews on his classroom abilities -- something even the principal acknowledges. That all changed last year, Humphries says, after the assistant principal retired and after word of the letter leaked out among the faculty at Normandy High. Teachers began telling Humphries that Smith suspected he was the mysterious author.

In December, weeks after the letter surfaced, Humphries says he received an unsatisfactory performance review from Smith. By January, he had begun getting repeated letters from the principal criticizing his performance for things like talking on the telephone after the school bell rang -- even though Humphries says he was speaking with a parent. To Humphries, it was a sign the principal was "building a file" in order to terminate him. He hired a lawyer. In April, Humphries was notified the school would not be renewing his contract for the 2000-01 school year.

Humphries flatly denies authoring the letter -- he says much of its contents came as a surprise to him. But he does say that after he was told he was the suspected author, he put the word out that he wanted a copy. He says the letter arrived by the mail, and he gave it to his lawyer. "I told (Gibert), 'Let's look into this thing and find out who did it."

The letter was no secret at Normandy High, at least among the staff. Jack Tevlin, a teacher and union representative, says word quickly spread. "We're not in a vacuum. We understand the letter was sent to a variety of sources. We've known Alvin a few years, and my exposure to him is pretty limited to that, and in that period of time, there is no indicator of any of that being true. I don't know of any of that -- if it is true. Who knows? In this day and age, you hear a lot of things about a lot of people."

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