According to former Friends of Manual board chair Lainie Hodges, staffers and students were left reeling by news that a Denver Public Schools investigation found that former Manual High School principal Nick Dawkins had violated policies related to "equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination" and "procedures for the investigation of employee complaints of discrimination or harassment."
"The kids deserve better than this," Hodges says of an inquiry she characterizes as a "witch hunt." She rejects reported allegations against Dawkins related to inappropriate sexual and racial comments and the creation of a hostile work environment at Manual, emphasizing, "I don't believe it's true at all."
Hodges, an alumni of the school, stepped down from her Friends of Manual position following Dawkins's early-March resignation as principal, writing in her resignation announcement, "It was a pleasure to work alongside him and I will forever treasure what Manual is and has been to us." She was among a large group of Dawkins's supporters to speak out on his behalf in the days immediately following his departure.
All parties involved have been a lot quieter since a number of the more than twenty people interviewed as part of the investigation were informed about its findings a week or two ago. Denver Public Schools has not yet made an official statement about the end of the investigation.
Dawkins, for his part, has removed the LinkedIn page on which he announced a new administrative position with DSST Public Schools. Last month, DSST Director of Communications Heather Lamm said that an offer had been made to Dawkins, but it was put on hold pending the investigation's conclusion.
Despite these developments, Hodges continues to speak out in praise of Dawkins, who was seen as a rising star at Denver Public Schools prior to a series of recent controversies, including reports last fall of a Confederate flag at a Manual-Weld Central High School football game; his initial account of what happened was subsequently walked back.
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Hodges sees it as outrageous that the investigation was concluded "when they didn't get his side and he didn't get a chance to defend himself." To reports that Dawkins didn't respond to DPS invitations to weigh in, she replies, "To say they couldn't get hold of him tells me they didn't try very hard. I fail to believe they tried everything they could."
She adds, "My understanding is that he had to reach out to them in the very beginning because he hadn't heard anything. I heard excuses about the investigation being slowed down by spring break. So now, to hear that the investigation has concluded is kind of mind-blowing to me."
Hodges's main gig is as a performance coach, facilitator, speaker and mentor, according to her website, LainieHodges.com. However, she notes that "I'm at Manual a lot because I teach at the middle school there every other day, and I would often work out of the administrative wing. And in the fall, Nick and I had conversations about wanting to work on some team-building stuff, which is part of what I do."
These efforts didn't go as she'd hoped. "There were administrators on the administrative team who didn't even show up," she says. "I don't know what their reasons were. We tried rescheduling, but we were never able to get everyone together in the same room before everything flipped out. So it was confusing to me how we got there. I never saw any problems, and if they were happening, it didn't seem that anyone knew."
During her interactions with Dawkins, Hodges maintains, "he was always positive and professional. We worked together for roughly three years when I was the board chair, and the board was really celebratory and supportive of his work and the way he engaged with alumni, which, as an alumni myself, is something I'd been dreaming of for years. That wasn't there before he became principal, and to watch it grow under his leadership was inspiring."
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In Hodges's view, "Nick brought something special to his role as principal. That's why he was hired and why the community wanted him to be hired — because we knew how much heart and skill he had. And the evidence was there in the growth and progress he created. He laid the groundwork for kids succeeding, and the kids really bought into that blueprint."
Now that it's clear Dawkins won't be returning, she acknowledges, "I'm concerned that rather than following the pathways that have already been laid out, the next person will come in and try to do a totally different thing. And if that happens, it will make me question the future of Manual going forward."
In the meantime, Hodges has been talking to others within the Manual community, "and they're devastated over what's happened. That's why you saw such a push in the beginning from students and members of the community collecting signatures on a petition to bring him back."
Amplifying her frustration, she says, is "the fact that this narrative about Nick is being put out there by anonymous people, with charges and evidence that's not known. That's another reason why this has broken so many hearts."