Summit school board votes to hire search firm to find interim superintendent
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Amy Noraka is considering home-schooling her children next year. They were part of the district’s remote-learning program this year.
The Summit School District Board of Education and several members of the public commented Monday night on the board’s split decision on whether to renew Superintendent Marion Smith Jr.’s contract.
At Monday’s meeting, the board voted 4-2 to work with a search firm to hire an interim superintendent for the 2021-22 school year. Board members Chris Alleman, Tracey Carisch, Kate Hudnut and Gloria Quintero voted in favor of the motion while Consuelo Redhorse and Isabel Rodriguez voted against. At an April 15 school board meeting, Alleman, Carisch and Hudnut voted not to enter negotiations with Smith to extend his contract following the conclusion of his one-year term at the end of June. Quintero, Rodriguez and Redhorse voted in support of keeping the superintendent.
Despite her deciding vote Monday, Quintero said she stands by her April 15 vote to keep Smith.
“Thank you, because you really have inspired me to be present in every inequitable place I am,” Quintero said about Smith.
Rodriguez and Redhorse expressed their disappointment in the board’s decision to search for a new candidate.
“And it is hard to find people of color in leadership, and the system is designed to do that,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said Smith and the team surrounding him have achieved a lot with the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.
“And if after a year — which hasn’t even been completed for Dr. Smith — we as a community decide there is no space for him here — I feel there is no space for me either,” Rodriguez said.
Redhorse said her vote to keep Smith was what’s best for students and said Smith “led his team to do every single thing that we asked.” Redhorse asked if the collective board is looking at its own biases.
“We are extremely misaligned in our action and behavior,” Redhorse said. “We say we are in for equity, but are we?”
Carisch, Hudnut and Alleman said the board is committed to the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion work despite their votes against bringing Smith back.
Carisch said formal school board processes resulted in concerns about Smith’s leadership and added that her decision to vote against renewing Smith’s contract was among the hardest she’s ever made in her life. She said that’s because she wanted Smith to be successful and be the leader she saw during last year’s superintendent interviews.
“But here’s the thing,” Carisch said. “As a board member, I don’t represent this one leader that I chose and believed in a year ago. I represent almost 500 staff members, 3,500 students, thousands of families and community partners who are completely invested in the interest of our school district to make sure that all of our students have an equitable education.”
Hudnut, who serves as the school board’s president, said she understood the community’s clamor for an explanation behind the vote and acknowledged the district’s superintendent review process could be improved.
“This decision was made after a monthslong, thoughtful process,” Hudnut said. “It is not based on feelings or emotions or any one particular incident or initiative.”
Alleman said he’s “aware of what the optics looks like” in the board’s initial 3-3 vote, in which the three people of color supported the renewal of Smith’s contract.
“I’m aware of the labels being assigned,” said Alleman, who voted against the renewal.
After reflecting on the vote, Alleman said he has reminded himself that the vote is about students, not any individuals on the board.
“I understand your hesitation in believing me as a white cisgendered male that I am behind this equity work and that it’s top of my list for me,” Alleman said. “But this decision for me was not about the (equity, diversity and inclusion) work. I will continue to dedicate my time to helping as much as I can to deconstruct these systems that continue to hold back our marginalized students in this district. I don’t believe anyone on this board believes the work is done. I simply just disagree with the leadership.”
During public comment, nine people spoke about the superintendent. The large majority, including Frisco Elementary parent Claudine Norden, expressed their support for Smith and his work.
“I’d like to see some continuity with some of the new changes we’ve seen Dr. Smith bring, including (equity officer) Telisa Reed and consider her qualifications and her experience and the relationships she’s built as a possible candidate for the interim superintendent position going forward,” Norden said.
Parent Naomi McMahon said she also supports Smith and credited the superintendent for his communication and transparency, which she said was better than previous leaders.
“I also think it’s been a much better year with equity,” McMahon said.
District teacher Beth Wells raised concerns that some people in the district are afraid to tell the board how they truly feel.
“There are many people I’ve talked to that are afraid of losing their jobs in order to speak negatively,” Wells said.
Local parent Amy Noraka said she is considering home-schooling her children next year “to make sure my kids are learning a well-rounded picture and education of what things we are facing in our world today.”
“I totally support equality 100%,” Noraka said. “But I just want to make sure we are not taking a more one-sided, biased political approach in the schools and that we are giving our kids the opportunity to see both sides.”
Smith did not return calls for comment. Last week, Smith said the data in the board’s evaluation of his work “speaks for itself.”
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