Superintendent retires following fallout over controversial column

A Washington County superintendent is retiring after controversy over a column he wrote about an experience he had as a teenager.

On Aug. 30, Nashville Community High School Superintendent Ernie Fowler wrote in his weekly column for the local newspaper about playing volleyball during a P.E. class when he was 15 years old. He recalled seeing the “girl of my high school fantasy world.”

“My eyes were in direct line with her well-developed assets which were hidden under a T-shirt with the word ‘bullets’ sprawled across the front,” Fowler wrote. “It was 10 seconds of Heaven.”

Fowler issued an apology in response to the backlash that followed and stated that he would no longer be writing a column. The editor of The Nashville News, where the controversial column appeared, later apologized, too.

But the teachers union called for Fowler’s resignation or removal over the column, which it deemed “unacceptable.” His column, which was titled “Volleyball,” was published prior to a Nashville High girls volleyball game.

The teachers had also asked the school board to remove Fowler as superintendent back in May. At that time, they alleged Fowler hadn’t been an effective leader.

“Mr. Fowler’s retirement as superintendent of NCHS will enable our school and community to begin the process of healing and moving forward,” the teachers wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “The (union) will continue to work with all stakeholders within the school and community to uphold the integrity and outstanding reputation of NCHS, to mend any damaged relationships caused by recent events, and to provide the learning environment that our students deserve.”

The Nashville District 99 School Board accepted Fowler’s retirement during a reconvened meeting Tuesday night. Fowler’s retirement agreement was among the action items left on the agenda from Monday night’s regular meeting.

His retirement is effective this month.

Fowler wasn’t present during Tuesday’s meeting. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In his apology, Fowler said the goal of his columns was to show the community he is human and can laugh at himself.

“My goal was to bring a smile to the face of someone who might need a chuckle from time to time,” Fowler wrote. “Those of you who know me understand that I am not a ‘crackpot’ but rather a person who cares deeply about NCHS and the kids who attend here. I have a strong belief in God and try to live a life based on Christian principles.”

Board members declined to answer some questions from the crowd of about 25 people following the vote Tuesday, including whether they would advertise that they were looking for a superintendent.

Washington County resident LuAnn Grote, who attended the board meeting, said she and her husband graduated from Nashville High.

“It’s frustrating that everything seems to be so secretive,” Grote said.

The school board later issued a statement saying that it is looking for an interim superintendent to “help guide the district financially and legally.” The teachers stated that they looked forward to collaborating with the board in the search for the next superintendent.

In their statement, board members also thanked Fowler for his service to the district since he was hired in 2015.

“We wish him well in his retirement,” the board stated.

Boards are required by law to give notice of a regular meeting by posting an agenda at least 48 hours in advance. But the Illinois Open Meetings Act allows them to reconvene a regular meeting with just 24 hours notice, like the Nashville District 99 School Board did.

“The requirement of public notice of reconvened meetings does not apply to any case where the meeting was open to the public and it is to be reconvened within 24 hours, or an announcement of the time and place of the reconvened meeting was made at the original meeting and there is no change in the agenda,” the act states.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes