By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
Although the board may have been aware of this association, to parents looking for behavior to criticize, the relationship seemed too close for comfort.
"There was no search," says the former administrative employee. "Conway played Pine Crest. He sold Hank Battle to those trustees, and they bought him." Conway did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Additionally, business records show that Battle had an interest in side ventures that started as early as 1999. Three months after beginning his job at Forsyth, he started his own educational consulting firm, called Marriott Consulting.
In 2004, Battle changed the business name to NewSouth Associates NS Inc. He stayed on as president until 2008, when the firm's director, Christopher Perry, assumed control. The most recent filings available for the business list its address as that of Forsyth Country Day School, where Perry himself worked until recently as a consultant and taught economics classes.
A top expert in the educational recruiting field who did not want to be named for professional reasons said he was aware that "historically, Hank has always done work on the side." He said such a combination of interests was "not typical, to say the least."
Two legal cases provide some insight into the fallout from Battle's tenure at Forsyth. In 1999, a lower-school guidance counselor named Dinah McCotter sued Battle personally for breach of contract, alleging that he arranged for her to be fired when he was working as a consultant in the months before he became headmaster. Both parties voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit in December 1999.
Another lawsuit could be on the horizon. Margaret Bennett, a teacher who was fired from Forsyth last year under Battle's direction, has filed an age discrimination charge against the school. Negotiations continue; if they cannot reach an agreement, Bennett may sue the school by August, her lawyer says.
When Battle left Forsyth Country Day, the school scrambled to hire a new headmaster by July 1. A job posting suggests that Forsyth faced an uphill battle in convincing people that even with the à la carte academic center, the school was academically rigorous.
"Forsyth's primary focus is to provide a first-rate college preparatory education to students of average to superior ability, but the successful establishment of the [academic center] programs as an adjunct to the primary mission may be contributing to some confusion in the broader community," read one part of the job listing, which a parent posted to the comments section of the Sun-Sentinel article.
Another, carefully worded brochure to recruit a new headmaster, obtained by New Times, reads: "The previous Head of School presided over an exciting era of growth and innovation... While [Forsyth] has been immeasurably enriched by the many initiatives he launched, members of the school family are now ready for a breather."
As the Yahoo! board filled up with comments and questions about Battle's past, another group of concerned Pine Crest alumni started a separate online discussion, this one accessible only to members.
One of the group's members, a 1972 alumnus named Michael Lee, circulated an email called "Recipe for Disaster." It was a wry, two-page outline of steps he said the school had taken, such as "Hire headhunting agency featuring an apparently biased rep who presents and champions his new candidate for headmaster" and "Install candidate as new headmaster mid-year for no apparent reason, creating the appearance of a coup d'etat and sending a message of instability to the parents and community."
The tenor of the anti-Battle conversation became more vicious, with parents spreading gossip that Battle was dating several students' mothers during his tenure at Pine Crest.
While he had initially represented himself as a happily married family man, court records show that Battle's wife sued him for child custody and filed a temporary restraining order on April 1, suggesting that their relationship is broken. Parents contacted for this article and a neighbor in North Carolina say his family never followed him to Fort Lauderdale.
Grosz says of the information that was circulating on the internet: "We've always frowned on gossip, so... to have all this be public, it was embarrassing and hurtful, and some of it was not true."
In a meeting on Tuesday, May 10, in a room full of anxious faculty, the board called it quits for Battle. Dana Markham, a longtime teacher and administrator at the school, stood and made the announcement: The board had decided unanimously to place Hank Battle on administrative leave (sources suggest that his contract prevented an outright termination). Markham would become acting president.
The room erupted in cheers. "My colleagues called me right from the meeting so I could hear the commotion," says Grosz. Another teacher says that in the 30-minute meeting, there were seven standing ovations for the board.
When they walked out of the room, the teacher says, they were giggling. She says she saw a familiar custodian standing in the hallway. "Wow, something good happened," he exclaimed. "Y'all look completely different."
All of the teachers contacted for this article made it clear that despite the troubles with Battle, they still admire and love the school itself.
Grosz explains: "We all understood very well that there had been changes made that couldn't be reversed, but there was still a lot of optimism... The heart and soul of that school is the supertalented faculty."
"Knight may be the most recent alumnus bound for greatness, but he's not the only one. Wayne Huizenga, the Waste Management magnate and chief Fort Lauderdale benefactor, went to Pine Crest. So did Frasier's Kelsey Grammer and avant-garde jazz musician John Medeski."
Don't forget Ken Barrington. The star of Love in the Wild II (who was also blessed with the sexy smooth voice of Alan Alda).