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Akron NAACP calls out school board for superintendent resignation; some unions back board

 Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.

The Akron NAACP Sunday called out the Akron Board of Education for creating what the group called a “toxic environment” at the school district in the wake of the resignation of Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack.

Judi Hill, president of the Akron NAACP, and Lathardus Goggins III, chair of the Akron NAACP’s education committee, said their organization knew the pandemic and “ongoing challenges” facing America’s education system meant Fowler-Mack faced an uphill battle when coming aboard in 2021.

“However, we are disappointed in how unfair personal politics and unrealistic expectations for her to solve problems that have been plaguing Akron Public Schools for decades in less than a year,” they wrote. “We respect Christine Fowler Mack’s choice to resign after prayer and consultation with her family. We are disappointed that she was not given the time or support to establish her leadership, and the lost potential saddens us.”

The Board of Education voted to approve Fowler-Mack’s resignation earlier this month, with a joint statement released by both parties attempting to strike a positive tone, calling it a “mutual agreement.” She’s stepping down this week after a little more than a year and a half into her three-year contract.

The board’s leadership was very critical of Fowler-Mack during a performance evaluation last year, arguing she was “insubordinate” in her relationship with the board. Meanwhile, the Akron Teachers Union was also fiercely critical of her leadership as the district grappled with issues of student misbehavior and safety.

Teachers Union President Pat Shipe defended the board in a column in the Akron Beacon Journal over the weekend, joined by two other unions at Akron Public Schools. She says the board was correct in criticizing Fowler-Mack, arguing she was unwilling to collaborate with teachers and staff. Shipe also argued the superintendent suffered from a "paralysis of decision-making," with her putting forth an "ill-prepared and continually evolving team of negotiators who opted to adopt an approach of 'us against them'" in contract negotiations, which almost lead to the first teachers' strike at the district in 30 years.

"In our opinion we have witnessed almost two years of a lack of administrative leadership or direction which resulted in negativity, confusion, a demoralized staff, and rightfully concerned parents," Shipe wrote. "It is unfathomable to us that some Akron leaders do not recognize the insincerity of their advising a duly elected board to 'better understand their roles.'"

Hill and Goggins in their statement defended Fowler-Mack as “an educator dedicated to providing leadership toward a meaningful, rigorous, joyful learning experience for our students.”

The Akron NAACP joins a chorus of other leaders in the community, including the Greater Akron Area Chamber of Commerce, the GAR Foundation and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan in criticizing the board, arguing they never gave Fowler-Mack - who is the district's first Black woman to hold the superintendent position - a chance.

“We are concerned about what the current toxic environment will mean for Akron Public Schools’ reputation and the ability to attract quality leadership in the future,” the Akron NAACP statement reads.

The organization reminded the school board members that they are accountable to the community.

“We hope the Akron Public Schools board will take this time to reflect and commit to putting students’ interests above personal preferences, politics, and ambitions and work hard to repair the damage done to Akron Public Schools' reputation and the community's trust,” the statement reads.

District spokesperson Mark Williamson said board President Derrick Hall will not be responding publicly to the Akron NAACP's assertions, but will instead reach out to the Akron NAACP members individually to talk about their concerns.

The board is meeting Monday night, and Akron NAACP President Judi Hill is registered to make a public comment.

Hill in a follow-up conversation Monday afternoon said she was impressed with Fowler-Mack's advocacy for the district's students.

"At events when she speaks, she always has students there because it's about helping them see the bigger picture," she said. "But what we have just shown them is sometimes when you speak out and you speak up for them, it's not celebrated."

Updated: February 27, 2023 at 4:52 PM EST
This story has been updated with details from Akron Teachers Union President Pat Shipe, who defended the board in a column over the weekend.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.