Photo Credit: Austin Steele/file
Superintendent Demond Means and the Clarke County School District will be parting ways.
"The board has entered into negotiations for his exit," President LaKeisha Gantt announced after the school board met for nearly four hours behind closed doors.
The board took no vote on Means' departure. It's unclear if he is resigning, being fired or—most likely—negotiating a buyout. It's also unclear when his rocky tenure as superintendent will formally end. Gantt declined to answer any questions, saying that discussions in executive session are confidential.
While the board was meeting without him, Means told reporters that his comments last month about resigning were misunderstood, and he wanted to stay.
The board first met with the district's attorney, Michael Pruett, for about two hours before calling Means back to a classroom in the H.T. Edwards building. About an hour and a half after that, Means emerged looking upset. He asked to speak to the Rev. Abraham Mosely of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and then went to his office without addressing the audience of about 30 supporters who remained after 9 p.m., out of about 75 who initially gathered for the 5:30 p.m. meeting.
About 15 minutes later, the board emerged and voted to adjurn, and Gantt gave her statement. Local civil rights activist Fred Smith and journalist Walter Allen of Zebra magazine confronted board member Greg Davis, a frequent critic of Means, who got up while Mosely gave a speech.
"A good man, and they run him out," Mosely said. "In 2019, I don't think it's time to stand by and be silent. We want some action here in the Clarke County School District. We've had enough."
Means' supporters credit him for focusing on equity and shining a light on the alarming achievement gap at CCSD, with black children reading two or three grades below their white counterparts on standardized tests. But some have questioned his methods, including the hiring of numerous costly consultants, and his ties to ex-superintendents involved with the public-school privatization movement.
He made a number of controversial proposals during his two-and-a-half year tenure, including turning the old West Broad School into an early learning center, rather than leasing it to the Athens Land Trust to continue its community garden and farmers market and open a community center; buying an expensive building on South Milledge Avenue for administrative offices (which was voted down by the board); and pushing back renovations to Clarke Middle School (which he later reversed his stance on).
There was also a perception that Means had pushed out teachers and principals, most notably Derrick Maxwell, the popular principal at Cedar Shoals High School.
And he's consistently feuded with various board members, calling the board "dysfunctional" and "embarrassing" at times. When someone complained to the accreditation agency Cognia, Means wrote a letter asking the group to come investigate and accusing board members John Knox, Greg Davis and Tawanna Mattox of micromanaging—charges they denied, saying they were only asking questions and providing advice.
But it was another anonymous complaint—to the state Professional Standards Commission, which certifies educators—that led to Means and CCSD parting ways. After the PSC asked the school board to investigate, the board drafted a response affirming that he had earned his PhD, but chiding him for his relationship with teacher-training contractor AVID and for plagiarizing a passage from a book in a memo to staff, although the letter said neither of the offenses rose to the level of an ethics violation.
Means told Flagpole that he's used to criticism, having reluctantly overseen a state-mandated takeover in Milwaukee while also serving as superintendent in suburban Mequon-Thiensville, but he believes much of it in Athens has been unwarranted.
"There seems to be this point of conflict, and I don't know why," he said. "I'm just trying to do my job."