For legal reasons no one could say it officially, but after a two-hour school board meeting Wednesday night, the message was clear.
Lori Richmond will not be returning as the superintendent of Greencastle Community Schools.
School board members hinted at it, danced around the inevitability, fell just short of officially saying it.
It took a local businessman and high school parent to say the words for them. When the school board was pressed -- for at least the third time -- for answers about Richmond, her sudden leave of absence and her future with GCSC, Scott Davis stepped in and answered the question for them.
Davis said he had spoken to some other school superintendents familiar with the issue, who told him what to expect.
"There are negotiations going on between Ms. Richmond and the board," Davis said. "If they open their mouths and say the wrong thing, she wins. She is not coming back."
And with that, several hundred people seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
There is still much work to do, but the consensus seemed to be that people are ready to move forward following Richmond's sudden exit on the heels of the resignation of former GHS Principal Jennifer Shepherd earlier this month.
The interim appointments of Dawn Puckett as superintendent and Russ Hesler as high school principal mean things are not yet official, but most interested parties seem to be at ease with the selection of the two longtime Greencastle educators in the corporation's two most visible roles.
"A mid-year voided leadership is never easy, but I think the advantage that we have was we have Dawn, we have Russ and we have the other building principals and administrators who've been doing a good job," board secretary Bill Tobin said. "So there's that continuity within the central office that we can count on. That's, I think, really going to go a long way toward reassuring people."
"I want to compliment you guys for finally patting Russ on the back instead of slapping him in the face," one parent said, alluding to the several times the principal's seat has been open since Hesler became assistant principal.
Even the students spoke their minds Wednesday, echoing the sentiments that familiarity will be good in this time of change.
"My friend (who will graduate this year) told me she doesn't want to walk down for graduation and shake someone's hand she doesn't know," GHS junior Carly Rhine said.
Senior Reba Chapple said at one time she could probably name the teachers in every GCSC school, but high turnover has changed that.
"Please get it fixed. Please," Chapple said. "I've had the second half of my academic career pretty much stomped on. It's in pieces. I don't want to see that happen to future generations."
The signs of change were already in place early in Wednesday's meeting. In spite of the several hundred community members in attendance, board members appeared at ease, speaking more candidly than had perhaps been the case in recent months.
Requests made repeatedly by community members in the past were granted with little trouble.
Puckett read each personnel item on the docket individually before a vote was taken, a step never taken by either Richmond or her predecessor Bob Green.
Following the approval of minutes, board member Denise Sigworth asked that addendums to the minutes also be posted on the school website, a request made repeatedly in the past by community member Leslie Hanson.
The board agreed with no discussion.
Later, when Hanson and others asked that board members' email addresses be posted on the corporate website, they gave the go-ahead to the plan.
They are small steps, to be sure, but signs that changes might genuinely be taking place on the board and in the corporation.
Along with change and the need for stability, the other issue that kept coming up Wednesday was looking forward. While the low morale and loss of good employees had board members admitting they would like to have acted sooner, the goal is to see how to improve the school starting right now.
Puckett said job number one is taking care of people.
"I believe a school, as an organization, is about people," Puckett said. "Children are our product, so people are our product. Teachers are the process, so people are our process. And if you don't take care of your people, you're not going to be successful.
"That's our first step," she added. "It's about our people, bringing us all back together. That's where we're going to begin."
Board vice president Mike White encouraged people to find some common ground and try to make things better.
"What we've done is we've created sides," White said. "If that's the case, we're going to get nowhere. There can only be one side -- to make the schools better. Let's move this community forward."
Community member Wayne Lewis, who regularly takes a strong, but generally positive, stand at meetings, challenged his fellow citizens. He told them to come back to the January meeting, saying there should be so many people there it has to be in Parker Auditorium, which has a much larger capacity than the Ridpath cafeteria.
"It's time for us to quit complaining and looking backward," Lewis said. "God gave you two eyes to look forward. He also gave you two ears -- listen. He also gave you a mouth -- speak up."
The Greencastle School Board meets at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 9.