On May 2nd we randomly mentioned a former reporter at the Mt. Sterling Advocate. A couple weeks later, that former reporter identified herself as a Joshua Powell apologist and went out of her way to attack Jake personally while painting herself as a superb, untouchable journalist.
But wouldn’t you know it? That was a bunch of hogwash. Turns out Afton Fairchild Spencer was part of the problem when she worked at the paper. We’ve obtained leaked emails from Kentucky Department of Education sources that appear to suggest she and her paper knowingly misled its readership.
We’ve also re-examined her coverage of an Emergency Protective Order filed against Powell by his wife that was brought to light last year. Spencer ran a story quoting Powell’s wife, Anna, without ever attempting to verify Powell’s claims against what she swore to law enforcement.
Let’s start with the EPO situation. We’re republishing an Advocate story because it cannot be obtained online. Here it is:
FROM THE PAPER
Board addresses Powell EPO situation
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013
By Afton Fairchild Spencher
Advocate staff writer
The Montgomery County Board of Education met in a special session Thursday, Jan. 24, to discuss a personnel issue.
Many people were in attendance at the meeting, including one local man, Bruce Walters, who brought copies of an Emergency Protective Order that was filed in Warren County Dec. 30 against Superintendent Josh Powell by his wife, Anna Powell. Walters passed out copies of the EPO to the many people who were in attendance.
The board immediately went into closed session for more than an hour, before returning with a statement. The statement was issued in regard to the acknowledgement of the EPO, which claimed issues of domestic violence against Josh, but was withdrawn by Anna Jan. 2 before any action could be taken.
Kenney Gulley, board chair, read the statement to those in attendance.
“The Montgomery County Board of Education is aware of the domestic violence allegations against Superintendent Josh Powell,” Gulley read. “The allegations are a civil matter, and have been withdrawn. The board of education is an administrative agency that has powers only provided by statute. The Educational Professional Standards Board is responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of misconduct of educators, including superintendents. The standards board has the authority to suspend or revoke the certificates of educators that allegedly engage in misconduct, or impose other conditions that protect the safety of students and the integrity of the professional. The legal staff of the standards board works to protect the children in Kentucky public schools, and assists in ensuring that educators maintain the dignity and integrity of the profession. The board understands that the standards board is aware of these allegations, has opened a case and will proceed with an investigation.”
Board Vice Chair Kelly Murphy then made the motion requesting the board attorney Michelle Williams contact the EPSB to see if the process could be expedited, since investigations of this type often take a while to conduct. Sharon Smith seconded the motion, to which all other board members voted in agreement.
The Advocate has contacted the EPSB and was informed that an investigation has, in fact, been opened, but that no further information could be disclosed at this time.
After the vote, Gulley offered the Powells and their representation an opportunity to speak.
The first to speak was Anna, who addressed the public with concerns about her personal business being aired.
“… The very nature of this meeting, which was prompted by certain malicious individuals, has forced me to disclose private and protected information because I have no other choice,” Anna said.
Anna proceeded to explain that she has a disability that requires her to take medicine. However, as she is four months pregnant, she said she has been unable to take the medication that she requires. This, in addition to hormones caused by the pregnancy, caused her to act viciously toward Josh and file an EPO after a dispute the couple had. in which Josh told her he needed a break, she said.
Upon realizing her mistake and admitting she made up the allegations in her statement, Anna said she immediately retracted it, contacting local authorities to inform them she did not want the EPO served. She said she felt much shame for her actions.
“Josh and I were over this in a few days, not even a second thought,” she said. “Our kids were happy, we were happy. Then yet, because of all of this, and all the pleasure that you all get out of somebody’s pain, I am here in front of you all tonight telling you all thins that I know you all would never want to get up and tell anybody.”
Anna thanked all those who have been supportive to she and her family during the past several weeks.
After Anna spoke, Kentucky Education Association representatives Peace Ifeacho and Tim Southern spoke to the crowd. Both shamed those in attendance and others in the community they claimed were spreading rumors.
Ifeacho vouched for the character of the Powells, and encouraged the public to leave them alone while they deal with this private matter.
“What are you trying to accomplish?” she asked the crowd. “(Anna) herself has told you there is nothing to save her from, so are you trying to tear down Josh Powell? In which case, are you trying to tear him down for what he’s done for Montgomery County. Is that the problem you have with him? That all of the sudden, this district has gone from here to here? Is that what you want to criticize him for?”
Southern reiterated Ifeacho’s message, citing nothing illegal had happened and there was no story to be spread. Southern said some people had posted negative comments on an Internet forum, adding that libel and slander are against the law, and said the matter would not stop there.
Josh ended the meeting with his statement, apologizing that his personal life had disrupted the educational process. He praised the integrity and character of those who stood by he and his family in recent weeks, but told others that “the days of turning my cheek are now over.”
He also stated that while he has lived here now for some time and that this experience has hurt he and his family, it has also made them come to a realization.
“Now, flaws and all, for the first time, we truly are a part of this community,” Josh said.
The public was not given the opportunity to respond or ask questions, and the meeting was promptly adjourned.
Now that you’ve read it, let’s examine the actual EPO. While salacious, it’s important for readers to make their own conclusion. So we’re publishing it — along with Anna’s later retraction — in full.
CLICK TO ENLARGE
CLICK TO ENLARGE
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Some detail from the form:
Prior arguments all day Friday. Josh has threatened me numerous times and physically abused me over the past 7 years of marriage. He picked me up by my throat Friday afternoon. His anger and rage escalates as night time gets closer and after time kids go to sleep. He told me to go to basement so we could end all this. He has choked me, beat me, kicked me, threw me down repeatedly in the past. I knew if I didn’t leave right then, he would kill me. I knew if I couldn’t get my kids or he would kill me. I have lived through many nights in the basement and I was too afraid to … make it through another night.
As you can see, Powell swore on the EPO that her husband violently attacked her, abused her for seven years, had about 70 guns in his basement and she feared for her life. Joshua allegedly picked Anna up by the throat on Friday, December 28, 2012. Twice, in her sworn statement, she said she knew he would kill her. Two days later, several counties away, the EPO was filed on December 30, 2012.
Though immediately sent to Montgomery County Sheriff Shortridge, it was never served. We won’t even begin to get into trying to figure out why an allegedly armed and dangerous guy wasn’t immediately served, fabricated allegations or not.
On January 2, 2013, Anna retracted the EPO:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
I would like this form to completely dismiss the EPO filed on 12-30-12. I had the goal of picking up my children and I was able to do so. The EPO was never served; therefore, I do not want any record of this on Joshua Powell’s record or any future problems because of the last 3-4 days.
The paper never discussed what Anna’s claims were, didn’t discuss the timeline, didn’t question her and neglected to do anything but take the Powells’ word for it.
Additionally, Tim Southern and Peace Ifeacho are KEA representatives for classified employees. Long story short: they’re essentially union reps that are supposed to fight against superintendents on behalf of classified employees. Blows our minds, too.
During that meeting the paper half-reported on, Southern claimed to have IP addresses of people posting on internet websites (he didn’t), waved some papers around, slammed them down in front of Joshua Powell and said (paraphrased based on a recording), “sign this and KEA will provide an attorney for you.” Southern obviously didn’t have IP addresses as Powell later proved by pressing the board to sue to access them. Spencer and others at the paper knew Southern was lying during the meeting, as sources contacted them prior to press time, and they chose to ignore it. Those same sources, according to email records, contacted KEA after that meeting to ask if Powell would be provided an attorney and the answer was that he would not. A “professional journalist” with a “real news organization” would have probably bothered to do a bit more leg work instead of ignoring glaring holes in the story.
A note on facts in the story: Walters didn’t pass out the EPO but did hand out emails from KDE (directly to spencer), which we’ll address later in this story. We’ve confirmed this with both board members and others who were present at the meeting.
In that same edition of the paper, Bruce Walters had a letter to the editor published:
Questions about meeting
I am writing this letter in reference to the closed session meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Education held at the Montgomery County High School cafeteria Jan. 24.
The meeting was called to discuss personnel issues and was closed to the public; therefore, as Board Chair Ken Gulley announced at the commencement of the meeting, the public was prohibited from speaking, questioning or commenting.
However, Mr. Gulley did allow Superintendent Joshua Powell’s wife, Anna Powell, to address the audience. She is, in fact, a citizen of Montgomery County.
She stood before the audience and admitted to filing a false Emergency Protective Order against her husband in the Warren County District Court Dec. 30. The EPO detailed the alleged abuse endured for the past seven years. Upon rescinding the EPO, she stated (in the retraction) her reasons for doing so were the result of her obtaining her goal in getting her children.
At the meeting, she admitted she lied and filed a false EPO due to a disability. She also stated in her speech that Dr. Powell was “the real victim.”
She addressed citizens in the audience, calling them by name, and stated they would be “held accountable” for defamation and libel because copies of the EPO were passed out at the meeting in an attempt to inform the public there was in fact an EPO (they are public record) and allow insight into the plethora of questions pertaining to Dr. Powell’s character.
Mr. Gulley allowed Peace Ifeacho, a regional representative of the Kentucky Educational Association, to speak on behalf of Dr. Powell. Ms. Ifeacho is not a citizen of Montgomery County nor is she employed by Montgomery County Schools.
She stated she had witnessed the marital satisfaction between the Powells on many occasions. I would like to note that Peach Ifeacho described Josh Powell, “a celestial beaing.” It is my belief the only celestial being is God. Dr. Powell is not a God, and no one should be compared to God.
Mr. Gulley allowed Tim Southern, regional representative of the Kentucky Educational Association, to speak on behalf of Dr. Powell. Southern is not a citizen of Montgomery County nor employed by Montgomery County Schools.
Southern stated that KEA would provide legal representation if Mr. Powell desired to pursue any form of legal action. He also stated that legal action could be leveled against the citizens of Montgomery County who dared talk about the EPO filed by Mrs. Powell against her husband or those who posted comments on the web-sites.
I found the events of the evening to be unsettling and unprofessional.
We have a duty to protect our children and uphold their right to a quality education. With the number of questionable circumstances surrounding Powell, he is not who we need leading our district.
We don’t need board members, like Ken Gulley, who do not allow input from stakeholders, citizens, employees and concerned parents, yet allows those in “Powell’s circle” to comment at meetings.
I hope the citizens of Montgomery County pray to God out of concern for our children and that change occurs.
A concerned citizen and parent,
It’s almost as if the professional journalist attended a different meeting than the rest of the dozens of people in attendance.
Now, to the emails from the Kentucky Department of Education that appear to suggest Spencer misled readers of her paper…
Let’s start with a story about Montgomery County Schools making assessment gains:
By Afton Fairchild
Advocate Staff Writer
The Montgomery County School District showed significant gains during the 2011-12 school year statewide assessment test.
Last school year was the first time Kentucky used its new testing system based on common core standards, K-PREP; and this year marks the first year of the state’s new accountability system used in conjunction with the results, known as Unbridled Learning: College/Career Readiness for All.
The district showed significant gains as a whole, with a 49 percent increase in standing from last year, gaining a proficient classification and a score of 58.6 (state average for 2012, 55.2). While the testing is more rigorous in certain subject areas, schools and districts can still be compared based on their standing among other schools and districts in the state. Last year, the district was in the bottom 24 percent of districts, while this year, the district is in the top 27 percent of districts, putting Montgomery County in the top 50 (out of 174), compared to last year’s rank of 132.
Scores are based on factors of achievement, gap, growth, college/career readiness and graduation rate, when applicable. Both the middle and elementary level scores do not include graduation rates. The elementary school scores also do not reflect college/career readiness. A more in-depth explanation of the new assessment and accountability model appeared in last week’s Advocate.
Individual school districts, designations and rankings are as follows:
— Camargo Elementary — Score of 66.3, proficient; top 18 percent of Kentucky elementary schools, up from the bottom 26 percent in 2011 (56 percent increase).
— Mapleton Elementary — Score of 74.3, distinguished, School of Distinction; top 3 percent of Kentucky elementary schools, up from the top 43 percent in 2011 (40 percent increase).
— Mt. Sterling Elementary — Score of 63, proficient; top 28 percent of Kentucky elementary schools, up from the top 34 percent in 2011 (six percent increase).
— McNabb Middle School — Score of 52.6, Needs Improvement, Focus School; bottom 43 percent of Kentucky middle schools, up from bottom 21 percent in 2011 (increase of 22 percent).
— Montgomery County High School — Score of 55.7, Needs Improvement; top 42 percent of Kentucky high schools, up from bottom 20 percent in 2011 (increase of 38 percent).
Rather than tell you the story, let’s let an email discussion between Lisa Gross at KDE and a source tell it:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
CLICK TO ENLARGE
CLICK TO ENLARGE
You can see it for yourself. The KDE says Spencer’s story is inaccurate and misleading. In fact, the KDE says the new scores can’t be compared to previous years. So all those alleged gains? Debunked, a myth, bogus, not based in reality.
Spencer was presented with those emails, as previously mentioned, and her publisher was provided with them. No retraction or follow-up was ever made to the paper to our knowledge. But the talking point of Powell turning everything around has been a recurring theme in the paper for the past two years.
Spencer didn’t bother to fact-check Powell’s claims about improvement. She didn’t bother to put anything into context. Didn’t bother to verify anything with the Kentucky Department of Education.
What was that, again, about being a top-notch journalist? About verifying facts and having a legitimate news organization back everything up? What was that, again, about having several layers of verification prior to going to print?
The moral of this long, drawn-out story: the Powell crew, including Afton Fairchild Spencer, needs to get its own house in order before personally attacking the messenger here.
In addition to the paper taking Powell at his word about test scores — without any sort of fact checking or verification — Powell conned Mitch McConnell and Andy Barr into appearing in a video the district produced about those test scores and misleading, not-based-in-reality increases:
Also interesting to see Terry Holliday praising Powell for the audit we all now know was anything but positive.
If this video should disappear, don’t worry, we saved a copy.