A new principal takes Harding High by storm, wreaking havoc with every executive order and every decision, tearing apart the stellar school tenet by tenet.
Teachers, other administrators, students, parents, and the community at large increasingly react to the tremors shaking Harding High as Principal Wendy Storme churns a destructive path through their traditions, values, and protocol. Everyone associated with Harding has a valid motive for murder.
Determined to save her school and friends, English department chair, Rose Lane, and her rookie sidekick, intern Penny Bright, vow to move the hurricane-force Storme out of Harding for good…except somebody beats them to it with the decisiveness of murder.
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)|
Read an Excerpt
September — Nine months earlier, the beginning of the school year
Penelope Bright, Penny to her friends, bubbled with excitement over her internship at Harding High, a large suburban facility with a top-notch academic rating. Only five years in existence as a secondary school in a huge, diverse county, Harding already boasted numerous local, state, and national awards in everything from sports to music, drama, and forensics. The debate team had maintained its top standing in the nation for five straight years. School spirit! Harding High Hawks rule! Rah, Rah, Rah! And the facility itself was a stunning show of modern architecture. Three stories in height, floor to ceiling windows, attractive open spaces for common use, and even an eco-garden in the courtyard for the Agriculture Studies program. Harding High was an intern's dream high school.
Penny's summer interview with Principal Carter Thompson had left the intern giddy with expectation; Thompson evidently loved Penny's enthusiasm and Penny knew, just knew, the earnest, caring leadership of such a principal would see her through her first real job in education. How quickly she had dismissed Mr. Thompson's reminder that he was retiring before the school year began in September. Carter Thompson had opened Harding High, bringing along with him the brightest and best from his own staff at his previous school and hiring all other staff members himself from schools all over the county. From the reading resource teacher to the director of guidance, the secretaries to the assistant principals, every department chair and every teacher and every coach had been personally vetted by Principal Thompson; they were a spectacular assemblage of educational professionals. What could possibly go wrong, Penny thought.
Storme could fool a lot of people, it seemed. After Carter Thompson's retirement, the county educational leaders hired her, didn't they? Perhaps it was because she talked as smoothly as a moderator on a cable television show. Glib, though the woman was, it did not take the faculty and staff of Harding High long to realize her actual forte was lying. Though she said she had taught several different high school subjects, what she had actually done was serve in a quasi- administrative capacity for elementary school English as a Second Language on the county level. No classroom experience at all. The biggest lie? "I'm a people person," she crooned at the very first faculty meeting at the beginning of the school year where she was introduced as the new principal. Wendy Storme most definitely cared about people for one reason and one reason only: to further her own career. It was apparent early-on that she wanted to move up in the county hierarchy already top heavy with over two dozen "assistant deputy superintendents," whatever that job entailed. Most of all, Wendy Storme had no time for a lowly intern. Which she made very clear to Penny directly after that first faculty meeting. "Oh. You're the intern. I'm sure you'll find someone to help you here."
That was it. You're on your own, little chickie, was what Penny heard. Well, she was resourceful enough. She'd paid her own way through college, with help from hard-won scholarships and grants. The internship, which combined a graduate degree with high school field and teaching experience in her chosen discipline, also provided a squeak-by stipend just big enough to cover living expenses. Still, a little guidance from her leader would have been welcome.
Penny had taken a good look at her new boss as she spoke to the faculty. Probably in her mid-forties, the principal wore a nice suit — jacket tailored in dark gray, pin-striped pants. Sensible shoes with a small, chunky heel. Professional as her outfit was, it could not disguise Wendy Storme's flabby jowls and her decisively un-athletic stance in front of the faculty. Penny's bet was this woman spent zero time at the gym. Permed, graying hair frizzed like Brillo around chipmunk cheeks and somehow accentuated her beak of a nose. When she smiled, a space between her front teeth gave her the comical look of a ventriloquist's dummy. When she spoke quickly, her pronunciation of s whistled through the space.
Absorbed in her observations, Penny jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning, she faced a slim, middle-aged woman with glasses perched on her head and a no-nonsense expression on her pleasant face. Short, frosted hair framed cheeks that remained smooth and unwrinkled, though tiny lines of crow's feet sneaked from the corners of her intelligent, jade-colored eyes.
"I'm Rose Lane," she said. "English Department chair, Miss Bright. I just wanted to let you know that every teacher in my department is eager to help you find your strengths and work through your weaknesses."
Even if she was too green to know it, this was exactly what Penny needed to hear. She had found her mentor.
"My name is Penny. Where can I start?"
"We have a scant four work days to get our rooms ready for the students to begin the school year." Rose gave a slight shrug. "Principal Thompson always gave us as much 'free' time as possible, knowing the extent of our tasks. We'll see how Ms. Storme handles it. We're all hoping there will be a minimum of faculty meetings to take up our time." Rose grunted. "First I have to sort out the three different rooms I've been assigned to this year."
Loading paperback books onto a cart in the book room while Rose directed, Penny lifted her head from her task and wiped sweat from her brow.
Rose chuckled. "You might as well get used to doing all the leg work of teaching yourself, Penny. Need a worksheet? Type it, print it, collate it, hole-punch it. You may even have to do a bit of maintenance work on the printer. The secretaries are all assigned to administrators and they have no time to help the teachers. Supplies? Your department chair will order them for you, budget allowing, of course. You'll have to find a way to transport them to wherever they're needed. Ditto for furniture. Most of us get willing students to do the heavy lifting — computers, file cabinets, you know what I mean?"
Penny nodded. "Yeah. I get it. Guess I never thought about this part of a teaching career, the nuts and bolts."
"Oh, there are many more surprises in store, dear child. Just wait until you deal with bus duty, hall duty, cafeteria duty, bathroom duty — don't raise your eyebrows at me — yes, we all are assigned our IPRs, Individual Professional Responsibilities, though we refer to them as IURs. Unprofessional responsibilities. Any of your education courses in college prep you to monitor toilet stalls?"
"I'm at your mercy, Rose. I see that I need to experience it all. Use me any way you like."
"Duly noted. And remembered." Rose grunted. "Just wait until you see how you will utilize your 'lunch hour,' and I'm not referring to cafeteria duty."
Before Penny could comment, a figure arrived at the door to the book room.
"Finally. I found you, Rose!" Penny stared at the best looking hunk of male humanity she had seen since graduating from college.
"Brad, have you met our intern yet?" Rose tilted her head, evidently observing Penny's visceral reaction to the handsome intruder whose gray-blue eyes laser-locked onto the intern. "Brad's our head football coach. Last year he took the boys to the state playoffs."
Penny stretched out her hand for a shake. "Penny Bright. Nice to meet you ... Brad ..."
"McIver. Brad McIver."
McIver did not fit Penny's stereotype of football coach. The guy was over six feet tall and lanky and long-armed as a basketball player. None of the usual heft and brawn associated with football. Penny liked what she saw: a full head of sandy hair, angular, clean- shaven Irish-ruddy jaw and a ready smile.
"When he's not coaching the Hawks on to another victory, Brad is leading his high-level math students through the mysteries of logarithms, sines, cosines and such." Rose gave Brad an approving look. "He's the senior class advisor, elected by students year after year. And my guess is he's here now to discuss the AP schedule since he's also the Advance Placement Coordinator for Harding High."
With a sidelong glance at Penny, Brad addressed Rose. "So, when can we meet, Rose? Will this afternoon be okay? After the faculty meeting Ms. Storme has called and before football practice. I know everybody has so much work to do to get ready for classes next week. Never enough time, is there? But we have some new guidelines for AP programs across the board, and all AP teachers need to know about them. I'll keep the meeting as short and to the point as possible."
Rose turned to Penny. "Care to tag along for this one?"
Penny tried to hide her eagerness. "Sure. I have a lot to learn about football." She blushed. "I mean about the AP program."
Seated beside Brad McIver in the auditorium, Penny paid as much attention to Principal Storme's talk as possible, what with the distraction of her companion's proximity. Every now and then Brad would roll his eyes toward her along with a humpf or a twitch of his lips. Penny got it. Ms. Storme talked way too much about herself — oddly irrelevant snippets that would appear to elevate her erudition. She went on and on about brain synapses and county policy for textbook purchases and tedious topics far from the minds of teachers prepping for students' imminent arrival. Inexperienced as Penny was, even she could see that this was a colossal waste of teachers' precious time. The woman had not covered a single topic that was useful, helpful or relevant to opening school. It was easy just to sit and bask in the warm presence next to her, Coach Brad McIver. Damn. He even smells good.
Penny leaned in and whispered, "Who is this 'Sparky' guy she keeps citing?"
Brad made a sour face. "Milton Sparkman, our illustrious Superintendent of Schools. Only his best buds refer to him as 'Sparky.' Ms. Storme is doing a terrific job of name-dropping."
As the meeting broke up, Brad stood, stretched, and yawned with exaggeration, then turned to Rose sitting on the other side of him. "Gotta call off today's AP meeting, I'm afraid. The boys are probably already waiting for me on the practice field." He flapped his fingers and tossed his head in the direction of the principal. "Yap, yap, yap," he muttered. "Maybe the AP teachers can meet early tomorrow. Before she has a chance to call another useless, time-consuming meeting?"
Rose pursed her lips and nodded curtly. "I'll tell the others. Say 7:30?"
"I'll bring donuts," Brad said. He glanced at Penny and grinned. "We'll meet in my classroom. Y' know, I'm a math teacher. I get to have my own classroom. See you tomorrow?"
Penny smiled. "Make mine Bavarian cream." She sincerely hoped there was no significant other in Brad McIver's life.
* * *
Rose, Penny, and several other teachers stood outside Brad McIver's door on the math hall.
"He said 7:30 a.m., right?" one of them commented. "So, where's Brad?"
"Brad's usually so prompt," Rose said, checking her watch. "Oh, look, there's Jose Mendoza. I'll get him to unlock Brad's door for us."
"Glad to help you out, Ms. Lane," Jose flashed a bright smile at Rose as he wielded his master key. "Ms. Lane was my English teacher a dozen years ago," he told Penny. "At the old high school. She's the reason I got hired here at Harding High. She recommended me to Mr. Thompson."
"It's always good to have a custodian on your side, Penny," Rose laughed. "Jose was a hard-working student when he entered my class, only recently completing the English as a Second Language program. Excellent progress due to his determination." She patted the custodian's shoulder. "Thanks, Jose. Having you work here makes my life so much easier."
The teachers filed into the empty room and gathered chairs. Introducing Penny to the teachers assembled, Rose commented, "These are the folks who teach Advanced Placement courses across the disciplines."
"So where's our AP coordinator and where are the donuts?" the psychology teacher grumbled.
They engaged in small talk until Brad arrived, looking shaken and upset. His healthy complexion had gone ashen.
"My God. What's happened?" Rose exclaimed, standing up and holding out her hands. "Were you involved in an accident?"
"No accident," Brad got out through gritted teeth. "You are looking at the survivor of an F-4 tornado. A deliberate hit, in my opinion."
Brad sat heavily in his desk chair. "Ms. Storme just relieved me of my duties as football coach. Right after she demoted three of our esteemed colleagues from their department chair positions. Math, science, and history chairs. I watched them file out of her office one- by-one."
"But, but ... why?" Rose sputtered. "What possible reasons ..."
"She cited a parent accusation on me from last year," Brad shook his head. "A parent complained that I wouldn't let her son participate on the practice field because a teacher had told me the kid wasn't keeping up with his homework. It's always been standard operating procedure, as you know. Schoolwork comes before sports. It's how we keep the kids focused on academics."
"And a wonderful policy it is. I always consider the coaches my strongest allies for shoring up any and all slack-off athletes." Rose was incensed.
"Of course, I knew all about the incident. I guess it had to go in my file, as an administrative requirement about documenting parent complaints, you know. But Carter Thompson and I had a good laugh over the whole thing when the parent later came to school, at the end of football season, and thanked me for turning around her kid's academic performance." Brad pressed his lips into a thin smile. "I believe you were the teacher responsible for that, Rose. You were the one who reported the student's behavior to me."
"So ... so that's why the principal fired you?" Penny was aghast. "Even though the parent said later that it was a positive thing? Wasn't that in the file, too?"
"There's a good chance Principal Storme chose to ignore that part of the issue. She latched on to what she could use as justification for bumping me out of the coaching position." Brad swiped at his hair in agitation.
"And, there may be another wrinkle. After I left her office, the cross-country coach collared me and whispered on the QT that the head football coaching job is going to a guy by the name of Grant. Grant Sparkman."
"Sparkman ... you mean ... isn't that the same name as Superintendent Sparkman?" Penny asked.
"Quick learner," Brad gestured at Penny. "Yes, the same Sparkman. Seems Grant is the Super's nephew. And, somehow he lost his coaching job at his school." Brad gave a mirthless chuckle. "Goodview High, where he had quite a reputation."
"Reputation?" Penny's eyes widened.
"Grant Sparkman is widely known as a dumb jock." Brad grunted. "And a lousy coach. His team win-loss record is in the toilet."
Brad let this sink in before announcing, "As for the three demoted department chairs? I figured that one out pretty fast." He looked around the room. "Think about it. Those three have PhD degrees. Ms. Storme does not."
"Holy crap," Rose fumed. "So, what's the takeout? What will the ... demoted chairs do, I wonder?"
"I had a chance to talk briefly with them. The science chair is heading off to the science and technology magnet school across town. They've been asking him to chair their robotics department since the school opened. They're getting his papers in order for the transfer as we speak." Brad shook his head. "Carter was delighted when he talked the guy into teaching at Harding — such a brilliant scientist and a fine teacher. Now he's gone."
"History chair plans to stick around to help out the new leader — says she was getting tired of all the extra department work, anyway. And the thought of having to coordinate frequently, as department chair, with the new principal is reason enough to gladly turn the leadership over to someone else in the department." Brad made a face. "Still, it's a big loss. Besides a prestigious degree, she has so much experience."
"Jeez," Rose said. "What a shake-up. What about math?"
"Well, the math chair says if something good comes up, she'll be out of here. The university has some interesting openings for folks with a PhD in math."
The AP teachers sat in shocked silence. "I'd say our new leader is off to a ... a stormy start." Rose cupped her chin in her hand. "Maybe now I'm glad I didn't pursue that PhD degree after all."
"The whole thing is a lose-lose for Harding," Brad ground out. "Can you believe Storme is driving out ... driving down our most qualified teachers because her ego can't stand an academic degree higher than hers?" He smacked the table and cursed under his breath.
"How about you, Brad," Penny asked, her voice hesitant. "Will you stay at Harding?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Murder of Principle"
Copyright © 2018 Susan Coryell.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Great Whodunit. What happens when a new principal single-handedly destroys the camaraderie, spirit, and good name of a high school and some of its staff? People want to kill her. (I’m lucky I never had a principal like her!) Typical of most mysteries, the dead body shows up immediately. Then, Author Coryell does something different. She takes the reader back in time, so we can understand what led to such a drastic event. High schools employ many people. Consequently, many characters inhabit this story. Some are lightly described, but the main characters—Principal Wendy Storme, English teacher Rose Lane, and her intern Penny Bright are well-developed. The story is told through Rose and Penny’s points-of-view, and it’s done well. Step-by-step, Principal Storme wreaks havoc on people’s lives—demoting here, replacing there, even firing—giving everyone, not just in the high school but in the community as well, a motive to kill her. At first, I thought some of the things Storme did were illegal. But I’ve been out of the education world for over thirty years. I didn’t realize how much has changed, especially in a right-to-work state. It’s surprising what goes on behind closed doors in a high school. If you enjoy a good mystery, you’ll enjoy this book. I was given an Advanced Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review.
Seems everyone at Harding High, from the janitor to the superintendent, has a reason to kill new Principal Wendy Storme. Blind to anything but her own blind ambition, Storme sees everyone as merely a stepping stone in her own agenda, and she's not afraid to stomp. So when Storme turns up dead, everyone she stomped on is a suspect. But the dedicated teachers of Harding are experts at teasing the truth out of recalcitrant teens, and a mere principal is no match for them. Author Susan Coryell makes good use of her background in education to bring the conflict to life. Every petty, underhanded, backstabbing trick comes into play here, as well as every noble, fierce, generous impulse toward justice. If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at your kids' school--or your own office--read this book. You'll keep turning the pages, just as I did. And I hope you'll come to appreciate teachers more than ever.
In the Prologue to this well-written mystery novel, Harding High School Principal, Wendy Storme, “a tornado of a woman,” is found dead in her office by Rose Lane, English Department Chair. On that morning, Rose had intended to confront the principal and stand up for the faculty which Storme had used her power to abuse. In Chapter One, the story begins nine months earlier with the beginning of the school year. The reader is soon introduced to the numerous individuals who are made to suffer during the principal’s despotic dictatorship. Wendy quickly made abrupt changes in staff which negatively impacted instruction and morale. She replaced or demoted many. Staff both hated and feared her. Therefore, there are a number of possible suspects. Rose does some intelligent sleuthing to discover the murderer. Like the author, as a former teacher, I am well aware that much of the school politics presented in this novel is accurately portrayed. This mystery is a quality read. Susan Coryell has nailed it in the manner school systems operate. Readers will appreciate the authenticity of this book. Highly recommended.