A divided Alachua County School Board fired Superintendent Carlee Simon Tuesday.
The board voted 3-2, with Leanetta McNealy and Tina Certain dissenting. Chairman Robert Hyatt, who was part of the majority, named Deputy Superintendent Donna Jones acting superintendent until the board can nominate an interim superintendent at the next board meeting Mar. 15.
The decision comes after a Feb. 8 board meeting where Simon, who has been in the superintendent position for two years, received mixed evaluations from the board members. Although Certain and McNealy deemed Simon highly effective, members Mildred Russell, Gunnar Paulson and Hyatt rated her performance as unsatisfactory.
Russell made the motion to fire Simon without cause.
Following Russell’s motion, citizen input dominated roughly three hours of the nearly six-hour meeting. More than 50 citizens attended, while more waited outside. Teachers, parents, city commissioners and other public officials approached the lectern to voice their support of or opposition to Simon as superintendent.
Simon supporters requested Russell recuse herself from the vote, as she indicated in her evaluation of Simon that she did not know enough to accurately judge her job performance. They felt that Russel’s six months on the board were not long enough to justify her suggestion to fire Simon.
Negative views of Simon stemmed from pandemic-related issues, especially masking. At the start of the 2021-2022 school year, Simon battled with the state over mask mandates for students.
“I’m sure she still believes that she, rather than parents, know best as to whether students should be masked,” High Springs City Commissioner Linda Jones said. “She still insisted on masking staff after she had to unmask students.”
Others criticized her because of a dip in teacher morale. However, this trend is faced by school districts nationwide.
Teachers like Chelsea Bowlin, who teaches first grade at Lake Forest Elementary, and Kelly Cacciabeve, who teaches third grade at Lake Forest, supported Simon.
“Teacher morale is low. It is low across the country. That is not a reflection of Dr. Simon,” Bowlin said. “We had a problem with subs before Dr. Simon came; that’s not her fault either.”
Cacciabeve mentioned how often the district has changed superintendents, asking for consistency for her students.
Former superintendent Karen Clarke was fired in November 2020, which led to Simon’s interim superintendent position in December 2020. Simon was confirmed one year ago. Hyatt and Paulson opposed hiring her.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be here long,” Simon said. “But what I have done is I’ve built an exceptional team and I’ve worked with amazing people.”
McNealy, one of the members responsible for hiring Simon, called the board dysfunctional. Even with a new superintendent, the board must communicate to move forward.
Hyatt echoed McNealy’s sentiments and asked his fellow board members to consider nominations for interim superintendent, which will be discussed at the next board meeting Mar. 15.
“I think it’s important that we try to get someone that everyone can agree on,” Hyatt said.
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Emma Behrmann is a third-year journalism major and The Alligator’s metro desk editor for the Spring 2023 semester. She loves bodybuilding and spends most of her free time at the gym.