Hawthorne principal on leave

Debbie Phillips, who has served as principal at Hawthorne Elementary School since July of 2021, is currently on administrative leave.

Superintendent Terry Martin said he would not comment on the situation, calling it a “personnel matter.”

Phillips could not be reached for comment by The New Era. The matter was not addressed at the School Board meeting Monday night.

A letter to the editor signed by 36 Hawthorne staff members and dated Dec. 6, expressed “concern regarding the recent removal of our administrator” and requesting her return “as soon as possible.”

Phillips started the job as Hawthorne principal in July of 2021, just six days after arriving from Montana. She replaced Barbi Riggs, who was appointed as the district’s director of the teaching and learning department.

Phillips, 61, grew up in Pratt, Kan., a town similar in population to Sweet Home. She attended Wichita State University in 1993, where she graduated with a degree in elementary education, then went on to earn her master’s at Missouri State University in 2002 and her superintendent certification from the University of Montana in 2020.

She’s spent 22 years in education, 13 in various facets of administration. She started her career in 1993, teaching the seventh- and eighth-grade for a year. Then she moved to the fifth grade for three years and the third grade for five years, before becoming principal at that school, Climax Springs Elementary in Climax Springs, Mo.

She held that position for four years before accepting another principal role at Windsor Elementary, in the Missouri city of Imperial, where she spent another four years.

Then the Phillipses decided to move to the mountains, heading for Trout Creek, Mont., in 2016, where Debbie got a job as principal and superintendent of the Trout Creek School, which consisted of pre-K through eighth-grade students.

“I wore a whole bunch of hats there,” she told The New Era after arriving in Sweet Home. Tasks included curriculum and instruction, Title One work and counseling four days a week. She’d been there five years before accepting the Hawthorne job. Jeff Phillips is currently pastor of Sweet Home Family Baptist Church on Pleasant Valley Road.

The void left by Debbie Phillips’ absence is currently being filled by Julie Harvey, a counselor at Hawthorne who is now acting as lead teacher for the school.

In their letter (see page 4), staff members said Phillips had “faithfully” led the school, describing her presence as “integral.”

“From the moment she entered Hawthorne, Debbie used her seemingly endless energy and positive attitude to motivate and encourage all of us (students and staff) to bring forth our best effort,” the letter said, adding that “we have come to depend on her support and leadership to guide us through this challenging school year.”