Public comment at BOE meeting highlights divisions

Recently the Athens community has been divided over the decisions of the school board. Last Thursday they discussed their thoughts. 

On Monday the 9th of December, in a special called meeting, Superintendent Dr. Demond Means was placed on administrative leave by the Board of Education in a 5-3 vote. Dr. Xernona Thomas has been appointed to be the CEO until an interim superintendent is found. 

The decision to place Dr. Means on administrative leave was a controversial one. The events leading up to it and varying ideas for the future of the school district have heightened division in the community. On Thursday the 12th, community members shared their thoughts with the board during the monthly public comment period in regularly scheduled school board meetings. 

Dr. Means drew support from some in the community for being vocal about closing the race gap in test scores in the district. Others had concerns about the conflicts between the board and Dr. Means. 

Joseph Smith, a parent of CCSD graduates, said he thinks Dr. Means was failing to cooperate with the board and teachers even while making some positive steps.

“You can’t just tell the teachers to change something overnight, you’ve got to work with them. And I think that in the future the school board and the superintendent have to work together and really put themselves aside and concentrate on helping the kids,” Joseph Smith said. 

No matter what they believe about the superintendent, community members seem to agree that the disconnect of mutual respect between board members and Dr. Means is causing a rift. 

“I didn’t think he really respected the board and really didn’t want to work with the board,” said Joseph Smith in reference to Dr. Means. 

Retired CCSD educator Fannie Smith views the situation differently, claiming the board members hindered Dr. Means’ agenda.

“I see there is a schism here, and I’m wondering where it’s coming from. I see a well educated, prepared, dedicated educator. I see how he speaks, how he addresses people and treats people. But I see all of this animosity towards him,” said Fannie Smith during public comment. 

Last May a Newnan lawyer filed an ethics complaint against Dr. Means. The complaint alleged that Dr. Means plagiarized a letter to colleagues and lied about his dissertation.  

In reference to the complaint Smith said, “When they were explaining to us what they were saying had been done for ethical violations, I said ‘This has to be a joke,’ you don’t call those ethical violations.”

Bertha Troutman-Rambeau, retired Barnett Shoals Elementary School assistant principal, also expressed disappointment toward the school board’s decision.

“I feel like we haven’t been fair to Dr. Means. I feel that he should have every opportunity to continue his work. And I feel like the board should have that time to actually work through the problems,” Troutman-Rambeau said. 

Usha Rodrigues, J.D., a professor at the University of Georgia, was appreciative of Dr. Means’ work but still felt that the disconnect in the board was too big of an issue to allow him to stay. 

“I think that we all owe Dr. Means a great debt for his work. But I don’t think it’s working. Although there are things to be celebrated, I see drama and fighting and confusion that distract us from where we should be focused,” Rodrigues said in her public comment. She pointed out the fact that Dr. Means publicly expressed openness to discussing his leaving the position. 

The public comments from the meeting demonstrate the complexity of the situation, and the community is not necessarily divided into two clear sides. Some of those who support Dr. Means for his policies and actions can see that the board did not work well with him, and some who don’t support his actions can still support his mission for equity. 

Despite the differences, community members care so much simply because they want the best education for the children and the future of Athens.

“We have a lot more work to be done to do justice by the next two generations of Athenians. The students currently matriculating through Clarke County School district will one day be the parents and guardians we will need to be engaged partners for their children’s generation,” Imani Scott-Blackwell said in her public comment. 

Jackie Wright

Jackie Wright is a junior and Writing Coach/Copy Editor for the BluePrints Magazine. She has attended both the Georgia Scholastic Press Association and Southern Interscholastic Press Association. She wants to use writing, research, and alternative forms of storytelling to share information about politics, society, the environment, and the intersection of issues in these three topics. She is excited to produce impactful content that changes the way readers view the Athens community.