ST. JOHN – Despite public pleas and one board member’s attempted amendment, the Lake Central School Board accepted the retirement of long-time auto shop teacher Dennis Brannock.
Posting “Team Brannock” signs on their vehicles and T-shirts, an estimated 75 adults and students attended the special School Board meeting Saturday morning to show support for the teacher who had led the Lake Central auto shop program for 45 years.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Kristie Hussey, of St. John, the mother of a former and current student of Brannock, said of the veteran educator. “This whole thing should never have happened.”
Josh Skalka, also of St. John, said of his former teacher, “He didn’t just teach us about automotives. He taught us about life experiences. He made men and women of us. What they’re doing to him is wrong.”
A tearful Kimberly Jarvis, of Schererville, a 2007 L.C. graduate and auto shop alum, said Brannock “is the reason I came to this school, got through stuff and graduated.”
Brannock has been on administrative leave since an incident in his classroom Sept. 21. The board voted 3-2 in favor of the retirement-resignation as Brannock had requested.
Board Member Janice Malchow, who was in Brannock’s classroom when an adult male allegedly entered the room with a gun and confronted a student, unsuccessfully tried to amend the motion. Malchow wanted to extend Brannock’s contract to June 15, to enable him to finish the school year and mentor his successor.
Board President Don Bacso said the original motion could not be amended. Malchow spoke with Brannock and said he was willing to amend his previous retirement request.
Malchow felt she needed to do “what is in the best interests for our students.” Regarding her presence in Brannock’s classroom, the school trustee said she did not report the incident for several reasons. Neither she nor Brannock saw a gun, Malchow said, nor did she even feel threatened.
According to officials, no report was made of the incident and school safety protocol was not followed. Officials were not aware of the incident until later in the day after a student told a parent who, in turn, notified authorities.
The board vote was Bacso, Howard Marshall, and Cindy Sues in favor of retirement, with Malchow and Sandy Lessentien dissenting.
“This is a horrible situation. Things could have been done differently," Lessentien said.
Superintendent Larry Veracco said security has been tightened, with the back gates closed at the end of the school day, after the final buses have departed.
Community members addressed the board, calling for a compromise; praising Brannon’s dedication to his students; and doing what is in the students’ best interests.
Veracco added that while Brannock has been on leave, a temporary teacher with teaching experience and eight automotive certifications had been leading the class. Students criticized the replacement teacher, calling the class a “big recess.”
A full-time replacement position will be posted, Veracco noted.