On Dec. 9, the Clarke County Board of Education upheld a motion to place CCSD Superintendent Demond Means on administrative leave and appoint his chief of staff, Xernona Thomas, as acting chief executive while the board seeks an interim superintendent.
The motion was carried by a vote of 5-3. Greg Davis, Tawana Mattox, John Knox, Patricia Yager and Kara Dyckman approved the motion while LaKeisha Gantt, Linda Davis and Charles Worthy opposed it. Former board member Frances Berry, who represented District 2, resigned effective Nov. 15 for “personal reasons” and did not attend the meeting.
Approximately 80 community members filled Heritage Hall in the H.T. Edwards Sr. Building, with many staying the duration of the three-hour meeting. The meeting began at 3:30 p.m., and after roll call, board members retreated into a room to hold an executive session discussing the agenda.
Prior to the meeting, CCSD board members had already announced on Dec. 3 that they have “entered into negotiations for [Means’] exit,” according to Flagpole Magazine. This followed confusion surrounding Means’ resignation announcement at a Nov. 21 board meeting in response to ethics complaints filed against him.
Beverly Copeland, a retired educator in CCSD, was one of the community members at the meeting. Copeland said when she left CCSD in 1999, there were still high school students who could not read. Means, she said, has been helpful in addressing these issues.
“I’m for the kids,” Copeland said. “Means has, in my opinion, has tried to do things to help us get our children at least be able to read.”
Diane Dunston, a pediatrician in Athens, also attended in support of Means. Dunston said she advocates for children by working with marginalized children as a pediatrician and the CCSD Community Equity Ally Academy, which trains community members to address and eliminate issues of inequity and social injustice in Athens’ education.
“I take it personally because many of these children I feel are mine. They are children of children that I have helped to raise,” Dunston said. “We have an obligation because the little children can’t speak for themselves, and many of their parents who should be here can’t be here at 3:30.”
Dunston said Means has highlighted inequities in the school system, which affects minorities, and she said Means’s treatment has been influenced by racial biases.
“We’d like to see Dr. Means be in the forefront as our superintendent and held accountable for what’s happening in the schools,” Dunston said. “We as a community are at a point where we’re spending more time fighting against each other, trying to villainize a superintendent for problems that are inherent and existing in the system,”
At about 6:20 p.m., Mary Bagby, a former District 2 BOE candidate, revived the crowd with a speech, telling community members to “storm the windows of heaven and ask these people to change their minds.” With music playing from her phone, Bagby urged people to take action and hope for change ahead of the decision.
“If they send [Means] away, we need to go to the schools, go into the classrooms to see what’s going on, and fight for our children,” Bagby said. “We’re not asking to treat [our children] better than anyone else — we’re trying to give them equity, justice, things that they need.”
By the third hour, 25 minutes after Bagby’s speech, the board reentered the public room with a motion in hand.
“I would like to publicly say that I am disheartened,” said Gantt, who presided over the meeting. “Having done equity work, I know that Clarke County is a special place, but we have some real issues to tackle as a city and as a school district.”
Yager, who said she was “very sad to be the one making this motion,” was met with heckling from the crowd.
“I was just going to give my gratitude to Dr. Means for starting this district on the right path, and I think that there is a lot of interest in continuing in this direction with the new superintendent,” Yager said.
Means, who was in his seat at the start of the meeting, was not present when the motion was voted on.