MOUNT VERNON — The actions of administrators at the Knox County Career Center in having the engineering drafting instructor escorted from the building on Friday have ignited a firestorm throughout the county.
More than 100 individuals — students of instructor Steve Jefferson, former students, parents of students, parents of students who did not have Jefferson in class and community members — have publicly expressed their outrage over contentions that Jefferson made threats against the school, administrators and school board members. They all said Jefferson is an amazing, effective teacher who truly cares about his students and does not deserve to be treated in such a manner.
2010 engineering drafting graduate Corey Grennell said he would like to know what Jefferson said that “got him escorted out of the building. And I want to know why everyone is so unhappy there [at KCCC].”
Many individuals continue to be upset because of the board’s decision to eliminate the engineering drafting program. Grennell, for one, said he cannot understand why the school would eliminate a program which industry leaders strongly support. He said KCCC Superintendent Bernie Pachmayer herself thought enough of the program to have his class design different projects for the school, such as the sports medicine lab and collision repair storage area.
Numerous former students of Jefferson said they disagree with what has been happening since November and wonder if there is some “hidden agenda” behind the actions of the board and Pachmayer.
“All he [Jefferson] has done is take kids and turn them into adults,” said Joey Weiss. “He also taught me and my classmates to stick together and stand up for what we believe in.”
Alayna Durbin said, “He hasn’t done anything wrong. But what he has done is sculpt kids into great architects, students and great people.”
“Mr. J has always pushed students to be the best they can be and nothing less,” said Grennell. “He would go to battle for any of us students, whether we were in his class or not, and we owe it to him to go to battle for him.”
Although Bri Dalenbeg did not have Jefferson in class, she said the teacher knew who she was and took time to know her. “Every time he saw me or any other student he knew in the hallway,” she said, “he would take the time to ask you how you were doing and make sure you were staying out of trouble.”
“He is a true mentor. We don’t want to see his reputation ruined,” said 2010 engineering drafting graduate Shelbi Kiger. “The board members should be visiting the school and asking the students what is really going on.”
Community members as well as students let their views be known.
Cathy Hall Ellis said, “If it were not for Mr. J, I am not sure where my grandson would be. Mr. J was ... the most positive influence in his teenage years.”
“As a parent of two of Mr. J’s students,” said Jeanine Blackford, “I appreciate all that he did for my kids. He took them under his wing and guided them through some difficult times.”
Several parents echoed that sentiment.
One, who attends the adult career center, said it is to Jefferson’s credit that her son was transformed “from a punk teenager to a respectful man. ... If Pachmayer is set on removing Mr. J from KCCC, she is not there for the betterment of the kids and community. She is there for herself and her own agenda.”
“The real losers are the students,” said Chuck Lawson. “I wonder who is looking out for them?”
Jefferson remains on paid administrative leave while the Mount Vernon Police Department continues its investigation into the alleged threats.