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Palm Coast Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 1 week ago

Principal Culver retires, won't be on campus in December as Flagler Schools investigates Belle Terre Elementary

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Terence Culver’s last official day was Friday, Nov. 22.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Updated 3:15 p.m. Nov. 26

Terence Culver served his last full day as Belle Terre Elementary School's principal on Friday, Nov. 22, and will retire Jan. 3, 2020. He leaves a bow-tie legacy of cheer with some, while others have accused him of fostering a "toxic workplace" and mishandling funds.

Flagler Schools is investigating fundraising and other management practices at the school. Communications Specialist Jason Wheeler would not confirm or deny whether Culver is being investigated himself. A school investigation is not public record until it is completed, per state statute.

According to School Board member Maria Barbosa, Culver’s retirement is not connected to the investigation. “His retirement was requested some time ago,” Barbosa said in a phone interview on Nov. 25.

Local attorney and co-founder of Flagler Exceptional Student Education Advocates Stephen Furnari, who assisted three whistleblowers to come forward to ask the school district to investigate Culver, said in an email: "The public can draw their own conclusions as to the timing of Culver’s announcement."

Furnari said he got involved to help protect the whistleblowers, who have "witnessed their peers get berated, receive demotions and transfers, be terminated and more for reporting problems about BTES or Culver."

He went on to say: "The staff of Belle Terre Elementary School has endured a toxic workplace for years, and they owe a debt of gratitude to the brave whistleblowers who came forward to share their stories. We hope that by showing how these whistleblowers were protected from retaliation, other Belle Terre staff members will continue to come forward and share their experiences."

"In the long run," Furnari continued, "it will only benefit our community’s school system and Flagler County’s students."

Culver's tenure

Culver, who has worked in education for 35 years, announced his retirement in a letter on Nov. 20 to Superintendent James Tager.

“I have truly enjoyed being a part of the Flagler County School district, serving as Assistant Principal and Principal,” Culver wrote. “I have been fortunate enough to have worked with so many talented administrators and teachers. During my tenure in the school district, I have achieved many career goals including maintaining an A school for 6 years, having the most innovative school with advanced technology, and also being the largest elementary school in the district.”

Culver instituted a mentoring group, launched the African American Read-In, established a First Responder Superhero Dance, and started Belle Terre Bobcat 5k. He was a popular principal, as students even wore bow ties to school to celebrate his birthday. He stood in the street to direct traffic nearly every morning and sometimes rode the bus to help mentor and supervise students.

“I am so proud of all we have accomplished at Belle Terre and I am sure the next principal will continue to do the same,” Culver wrote.

Culver is technically “still on the job” as of Nov. 25, Wheeler said. “I think T.C.’s going to be at the school this week to tie up some stuff. … I think he’s planning on using up some vacation and personal time for the month of December.”

When asked whether Culver would be on campus during December, Wheeler said, “My understanding is not at this point.”

“Flagler Schools thanks Dr. Culver for his leadership and we wish him well in his future endeavors," Wheeler wrote in a press release on Nov. 25.

In Facebook comments on this story, several people said they believed Culver was among Flagler Schools' best and most friendly administrators.

Reporting to the Sheriff's Office

Although Furnari submitted his original complaint to the district on Sept. 24, neither he nor the whistleblowers have been notified of the outcome of the school district's investigation. On Nov. 26, Furnari said, he assisted the whistleblowers to share their "allegations of financial misappropriation" with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office.

"The allegations made in the Complaint were corroborated by the whistleblowers, both through their in-person interviews and in affidavits submitted by them to the District," Furnari said.

He concluded: "I look forward to the possibilities that new leadership will bring, including healing Belle Terre’s workplace culture and improving outcomes for all students, including those with disabilities."

Culver did not immediately respond to a phone call asking for comment.

Email [email protected].

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