Another resignation at Briarwood Christian School; Tuesday church elders meeting

Another member of Briarwood Christian School’s leadership team has resigned, becoming the third leader not to return for the next school year.

The graduate school’s director of curriculum and instruction, Ben Haindel, tendered his resignation the week of February 15. Haindel said he plans to finish this school year, but said he has accepted a principal’s position for the 2022-23 school year in Jackson, Mississippi, a position that will bring him closer to his family.

His decision follows the resignation of Superintendent Stephen Steiner on January 25 and the decision of leaders at Briarwood Presbyterian Church not to renew Principal Shawn Brower’s contract. This latest decision caused the most controversy within the school community.

Here is a summary of the events of the past few weeks:

  • January 25: The school superintendent resigns
  • January 30: An email to the school community from Briarwood Presybterian Church pastor Jim Alexander acknowledged Steiner’s “unexpected resignation” and said Brower, the principal, had not been fired or placed under gag order, but said Brower had not returned a form indicating his intention to return next year. The email also stated that “Dr. Brower has been advised at the earliest opportunity that he will not be offered a contract for the 2022-23 academic year.
  • January 30: Brower said in a letter sent to families at the school that he was surprised his contract had not been renewed and that he intended to return to Briarwood based on the submission of his timely response of his intent to return the form and said he was saddened by the decision.
  • January 31: Alexander sends a second email offering “sincere public apologies to Brower for an inaccurate statement in the previous communication and that he submitted his intention to return the form on January 19 when the deadline was extended due to technological problems encountered in submitting the forms.
  • February 8: The session (alumni) met and voted to uphold the decision not to renew Brower’s contract, but said they would meet again to discuss any possible mismanagement of the decision, statutes, etc.

Another alumni reunion is scheduled for Tuesday, February 22. There is supposed to be a discussion about the handling of the decision regarding Brower’s contract. The decision came directly from church leaders and the school board was not informed until after the fact.

Regarding Brower’s departure, many members of the Briarwood community are seeking answers as to why his contract was not renewed. A signed 74-page packet from “The Briarwood Community”, dated February 6, 2022, was given to many elders of Briarwood Presbyterian Church before their last meeting on February 8.

He asks church elders to investigate the situation surrounding Brower’s firing and says parents, teachers and staff have deep concerns about how the decisions may have been made.

“There are also concerns that communications were not handled impeccably with complete truth and transparency,” the cover letter read. “As a result, the very people the school is meant to serve have sadly lost faith and developed a tainted view of the church…and perceive pride, manipulation, secrecy, dishonesty and abuse of power on the part of church leaders.”

Included in the package is a call to action for church elders with a list containing dozens of questions they want to investigate. Some include:

  • Was the proper protocol followed and what were the main factors in the effective termination of Brower? Was this information hidden from the school board?
  • Is the current structure the best for the school and should the school board have more control and authority?
  • Did Brower’s contract take place in 2021, and if so, why, and was the school board involved in the decision?
  • What evidence was given to those who made the decision not to renew Brower’s contract?
  • Were teachers, school administrators, and staff asked about their views on Brower’s performance relative to his leadership position?
  • Have staff been asked about the tensions between Steiner and Brower?

A copy of the school’s bylaws was included, and sections were highlighted that “clearly provide that the school board has authority over the affairs of the school, particularly as they relate to this situation.” There are concerns that the bylaws were not followed when Brower was fired.

  • Section 2.01 states that the property and affairs of the school shall be managed by its own school board.
  • Section 3.01 states that a committee does not have the authority to act on behalf of the school board and that a committee conducts its business and makes recommendations to the school board for approval.
  • Section 7.01 states that the superintendent manages the affairs and directs the work and employees of the school, subject to and in accordance with the directions of the board.

The package also included a list of Brower’s qualifications, character endorsements from individuals (including former school leaders and teachers and current parents), and comments from a petition created by students on Change. org.

Multiple efforts to get input from church leaders were unsuccessful.

Jerry B. Hatch