Wellington’s Education Committee approved a fresh round of distinctive village grants for its public schools to kick off the month when school starts, but also grappled with the aftershocks of startling news from last month.
The interim principal at Palm Beach Central High School pledged his best efforts to lead a school shaken by the arrests of five employees, including the previous principal, on charges of failing to report a student’s alleged abuse away from campus.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to keep the Wellington community proud of Palm Beach Central,” Reginald Myers told the committee on Tuesday, Aug. 1. “I just beg of you patience — second day on the job there — but that comes with the territory.”
Committee Chair John Webber said that the committee will help out in any way it can.
“We really appreciate your willingness to step into this situation and try and make the best, putting our kids in the forefront where they need to be,” Webber said.
Myers came out of retirement to take the role on short notice, drawing on more than 40 years of experience, including serving as principal of Park Vista High School from 2008 until his retirement in 2021.
“It’s not about me,” Myers said. “It’s about getting school open and getting it ready for the students and the teachers so it can continue the good work.”
Palm Beach County School Superintendent Michael Burke also addressed the committee.
“I just want you to know we have our full attention on Palm Beach Central High School, to make sure they have the staff in place and all the resources they need,” Burke said. “We’re very confident we’re going to have a great school year.”
Events unfolded quickly just as the start of classes approached.
Longtime PBCHS Principal Darren Edgecomb and four other staff members were arrested July 24 on charges of failure to report an alleged incident of sexual abuse in 2021 involving a 15-year-old female student and a male student of about the same age, according to court documents. Records in Edgecomb’s case show a not-guilty plea July 31.
An assistant principal who was also charged filed a motion to dismiss Aug. 1, arguing he believed the abuse allegations involving his son were not warranted, but he appropriately passed along information to his superiors, published reports show.
A probable cause affidavit from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office referred to an incident happening at the beach, after which the female student’s family chose not to pursue charges as she experienced emotional distress. The criminal case was closed Oct. 18, 2021.
The PBSO report maintained that school officials eventually learned of the alleged abuse, in part from a letter written by a friend of the female student, but they failed to report it in timely fashion to the Department of Children & Families as mandatory reporters under law.
Affected employees were reassigned to roles with no student contact, district officials have said.
The developments rattled a community that prides itself on highly rated schools, while standing out as a rare municipality that gives its own grants to help students most in need.
The Education Committee at the Aug. 1 meeting approved renewed Keely Spinelli grants, named in honor of a pioneering village educator, for more than $36,000 each to Wellington’s 11 public elementary, middle and high schools.
The money is used for tutoring and other programs to help students in the lowest 25 percent of proficiency improve in subjects like reading and math. “This is a model we brag about across the county, and we encourage other cities and municipalities to maybe take up a similar-type program,” Burke said.
Committee Member Marcella Montesinos thanked the school district officials present at the meeting. “I just want you to have an amazing year,” she said. “I really thank you so much for [your efforts] day in and day out.”
The committee also sent a signal it wants the Wellington Village Council to consider enhanced grants for the village program known as Students Working to Achieve Greatness (SWAG).
“This year-round program is designed to help empower and motivate at-risk and underserved high school students in order to overcome social and economic barriers that impact their quality of lives,” according to the village’s description of the program.
The panel approved a motion to urge the council to consider such a commitment, with discussion that the Education Committee might refine its proposal in written form at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 19.