Means was still on the job as of Saturday, Dec. 8, when he spoke at a meeting on the “Crisis in Black Education,” billed as a follow-up to a similar community meeting in 2017 focusing on disparities between white and black students.
The average black student in CCSD is reading 3.4 grade levels behind the average white student, and there is a 54% gap in test scores. While white students locally outperform their peers statewide, black students locally underperform compared to other black students across Georgia. “This is not a Clarke County problem only,” Means said. “This is a national problem.”
CCSD has lots of marginalized groups, Means said, but African Americans stand out in terms of the data. “They’re not more important than anyone else, but that places them within the greatest area of need,” he said.
The district is starting to show signs of improvement, Means said, citing Howard B. Stroud and J.J. Harris elementary schools in particular. Ten schools’ College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores rose, and the racial gap closed at 13. (These points are disputed by teacher and Means critic Karen Sweeney Gerow, who wrote in Classic City News that test scores for black students have barely budged overall since Means took office in 2017, and the real gains have been among English learners, whom Means hardly ever mentions.) Even Means acknowledged that challenges remain, especially in middle schools, which are not adequately preparing students for high school, he said.
While Means said he knows that many black students experience trauma from poverty, if they show up for school, schools are obligated to teach them to read regardless of what happens at home. It isn’t just a question of poverty or economic development or the school-to-prison pipeline, either. Children who aren’t reading in third grade have a shorter life expectancy. “It is literally a matter of life or death,” Means said.
The event at times seemed more like a rally for Means, with supporters handing out flyers urging people to stand by him and chanting “Keep Dr. Means.” Means was asked about his imminent departure and, although he said at a board meeting last month that he wanted to “enter into a discussion about how I leave,” that he regrets those words and wants to stay.
“I made a commitment to Clarke County,” he said. “I am very regretful that I allowed my hurt and embarrassment on that night to lead things in this direction. If there’s anything I can do to mend fences, I will do it.”
However, the school board voted Monday to place Means on leave, naming Chief of Staff Xernona Thomas the chief executive officer until an interim superintendent is appointed.