Photo Credit: Whitley Carpenter
From left, school board members John Knox and Tawana Mattox, and Superintendent Demond Means.
Clarke County School Superintendent Demond Means “implore[s]” AdvancED to intervene in the school district in response to a complaint filed with the accreditation agency last month, citing what he calls micromanagement on the part of several school board members. Those members pushed back, telling Flagpole that Means is twisting events and attempting to intimidate them for asking questions or offering advice.
In particular, Means targeted John Knox, Greg Davis and Tawana Mattox. Knox and Davis have at times voted against Means’ initiatives—as they did on the West Broad School last week—while Mattox has spoken openly about tension on the board and the lack of trust between board members and the superintendent (who are supposed to work as a team, per board regulations).
“The situations involving specific board members demonstrate that the current situation in the district is dire, and intervention from AdvancED is necessary to make significant and sustainable change in government protocol,” Means wrote in a draft of a letter dated Sept. 13 obtained by Flagpole. He distributed the draft to board members at the end of the marathon Sept. 12 board meeting, giving them one day to provide input.
Problems have been “compounded by special interest groups that have aggressively opposed” Means’ agenda of increasing achievement, closing racial achievement gaps and ensuring equity, he wrote. The board doesn’t want to be perceived as a “rubber stamp,” he wrote, which “has contributed to a culture of skepticism and distrust.”
Specific allegations leveled by Means include:
• Knox and Davis would not participate in a hearing to determine whether to let a teacher out of his or her contract because they had concerns about the process.
• Mattox wanted to reverse her vote to approve a personnel package that included a principal for Alps Road Elementary. (The candidate later withdrew.) She also asked questions about the hiring process, saying that she would prefer for CCSD to promote from within rather than hire out-of-town applicants, because she had heard that internal candidates are “blackballed.” While Mattox said repeatedly in emails that she was not trying to micromanage, Means responded that her questions constituted “an indirect form of micromanagement,” as did her “tendency to assume ill intent” and “need to challenge the administration.”
Mattox responded: “From the first day of being sworn into office, I never felt welcomed by the superintendent, and I observed early on my perception of a superintendent who feels he should not be held accountable or questioned on any subject.”
• As previously reported in Flagpole, Knox met with Means in April to discuss the potential fallout if Means fired an unnamed Eastside principal, after which Means contacted AdvancED to inquire about filing a formal complaint. Means called Knox “confrontational and aggressive.” Knox had a different recollection, telling fellow board members in a statement provided to Flagpole that he was trying to spare Means from public outcry if the principal was fired after numerous other principals had quit or been reassigned. “My primary intent in having the April 9, 2019 meeting with Dr. Means was to help him in his job—not to undermine, not to threaten and not to intimidate,” he wrote.
• The board unilaterally added to the criteria for evaluating the superintendent, and has not scheduled a hearing on a complaint Means filed on May 13 against Knox related to the April meeting.
• The board usurped the superintendent’s authority by voting last month to approve a resolution, introduced by Davis, authorizing board President LaKeisha Gantt to hire outside counsel to prepare a separate response to AdvancED. The resolution cited concerns that Means is not unbiased and would respond in a manner that threatens the district’s accreditation.
Davis noted that CCSD’s attorney, Michael Pruett, recommended passing the resolution and advised the board on its wording. “In my view, Dr. Means’ response to AdvancED is an attempt to intimidate the Clarke County school board,” Davis told Flagpole. “It may or may not work.”
In his response, Means wrote that he understands the potential ramifications of involving the accreditation agency. “However, I firmly believe that we have passed the point at which the board will engage in any meaningful change without the intervention of AdvancED.”
After consulting with school board members, Means added two paragraphs to his response explicitly stating that he doesn’t want to put CCSD’s accreditation at risk.
As for the outside counsel, Gantt told Flagpole that the board has not yet hired its own attorney and is considering revising the resolution to more closely reflect district policy.
Read Means' full response to AdvancED here, along with supporting documents.
Davis' full response:
"In my view, Dr. Means’ response to AdvancEd is an attempt to intimidate the Clarke County School Board. It may or may not work. Specifically, I am charged in his response with introducing a resolution on August 29, 2019 for the school board to retain legal counsel to 'investigate and prepare a response to the complaints and allegations referred to in the Notice on behalf of the School District.' Following my introduction of the resolution at the board meeting, School Board Attorney Michael Pruett said 'this resolution that is exactly what we came here tonight to recommend.' With that in mind the board preceded with a vote and the resolution passed. Subsequently, in response to a Board President inquiry, Mr. Pruett gave additional guidance in a five page letter on how to reword the resolution to avoid any ambiguity. And yet, Dr. Means is now stating that by introducing the resolution, I was 'seeking to grant the Board of Education the authority to usurp the authority of the Office of the Superintendent.' If board members are not to listen to the school board attorneys then where does that leave us?"
Mattox's full response:
"From the first day of being sworn into office, I never felt welcomed by the Superintendent, and I observed early on my perception of a Superintendent who feels he should not be held accountable, or questioned on any subject. Please review all meetings, and I believe you will agree the questioning from the board to the Superintendent hasn't been extreme. His body language, and aggressive tone made it difficult for me to feel comfortable that I could have a rational conversation of any sort due to the way I witnessed he responding to other board members. I continued to do my part in being friendly, and I have engaged with him on things and no way have I been intolerable. I chose to communicate in writing [my] fear of this very thing after seeing my colleague being reported to the accreditation firm, and furthermore, the then chair and co-chair sign off on it rather than using that as a building moment and a teachable moment. Since I arrived on the board, my experience has been intense, and I believe people are walking on eggshells, and out of my passion I have chosen on occasion to speak in a board meeting, or submit written concerns to the board.