Photo Credit: Whitley Carpenter/file
As of this writing, Demond Means is still superintendent of the Clarke County School District. By the time you read this, he may no longer be.
Means stunned the community toward the end of what had been a routine school board meeting Nov. 21 by saying he would resign. In retrospect, there were signs that something was afoot. Means and Linda Davis and Charles Worthy, his two closest allies on the board, pushed at the beginning of the meeting for an executive session to discuss personnel, but other board members seemed puzzled about why they would need one. The only personnel items were a handful of noncontroversial ones, like filling the long-vacant principal’s position at Fowler Drive Elementary School and promoting Career Academy principal Lawrence Harris to replace the departed Claire Suggs as chief of community engagement and strategic partnerships.
The answer became clear about two hours into the meeting. Longstanding frustrations spilled over when the board discussed a letter to the state Professional Standards Commission, which certifies educators, informing the PSC that three allegations of unethical behavior made against Means in May don't warrant sanctions by the PSC.
The board voted 5–2 to send the letter, written by members Kara Dyckman and Greg Davis, and to add a phrase proposed by member Tawana Mattox to the end of the letter stating that, while Means should be cleared by the PSC, "we [the board] will determine the best measures for addressing these concerns."
Mattox said she wanted to add that phrasing because, "We have to begin holding the superintendent accountable for things. He's not perfect."
Vice President Linda Davis, running the meeting in President LaKeisha Gantt’s absence, tried to stop Mattox from discussing the amendment, arguing that it wasn’t germane. Mattox accused Davis of “playing games.”
In both cases, Mattox, Greg Davis, Dyckman, Patricia Yager and John Knox were in the majority, with Linda Davis and Worthy in opposition. Board member Frances Berry resigned last week. Worthy, however, said he supported the original letter, without Mattox’s amendment, and Knox considered voting “no” because he felt the board didn’t conduct a thorough investigation.
Then all hell broke loose. “Madame chair, I recommend an executive session, because by virtue of that vote, you don’t want me as superintendent, and we need to have a discussion about how I leave,” Means said. “So I am making a recommendation for executive session.”
The board, though, had already voted not to have an executive session—and during that discussion at the start of the meeting, no mention was ever made of Means or the PSC letter. And at a Nov. 7 work session, the board and Means openly discussed their response to the PSC complaint, and everyone seemed to agree on how to move forward.
“Your vote this evening, the amendment from Dr. Mattox, is political in nature,” Means continued. “I don’t think it was unbiased. It’s extremely disappointing, and what I will share with you is, you don’t want me here. And that’s fine if that’s what your decision is, and by virtue of the vote, that’s what you’ve shared with me. But I want the public to know I would have said this in executive session. This is politically motivated. This vote solidifies the efforts of many to rid me of the district, and so you are successful. You have been successful. And so whenever we can convene in executive session to discuss my exit from Clarke County, I will embrace it.”
Several people in the audience began to beg Means to stay and hurl insults at Mattox, who asked CCSD Police Chief Mark Sizemore to come to the front of the room.
"You don't need to be here. You can go back where you were," Means told him.
"I feel threatened," Mattox said. "I need the chief up here. People up front, heckling me. This is the last night."
Linda Davis announced she was skipping the last item on the agenda—the board's response to a complaint to accreditation group Cognia alleging micromanagement, an equally contentious issue—“because of the deterioration of the meeting." The board voted to adjourn.
As the meeting broke up, Sizemore escorted Mattox to her car as several people followed her, telling her, “We know where you live,” and, "You should feel threatened."
The following day brought little clarity. CCSD issued a statement saying that Means "remains under contract and continues to carry out his duties as superintendent." It referred questions to Gantt, who did not return a call seeking comment.
Xernona Thomas, Means' chief of staff, made similar remarks at a rally in support of Means at the the district's central office in the H.T. Edwards complex on Friday afternoon, according to Linda Davis. The hour long rally drew about 50 people, mostly African Americans, to hear speakers like local civil rights leaders Fred Smith, Alvin Sheats and Charlie Mattox urge the black community to support Means and his stated mission of equity in education for black children.
Davis added that Gantt has been in touch with Means and was trying to schedule an executive session to discuss his employment status, but it won't happen until after the Thanksgiving break. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Maybe that session ends with a pink slip and a six-figure severance check for Means. Or maybe this was all a bargaining tactic, and he emerges with a contract extension. Stay tuned.