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Former Akron Board of Education president to leave school board

N.J. Akbar, the former Akron Board of Education president.
N.J. Akbar
N.J. Akbar, the former Akron Board of Education president.

Former Akron Board of Education President N.J. Akbar — who presided over tumultuous times at the district — today said he’s stepping down from his seat to focus his attention on a new job.

Akbar was the board’s vice president as the pandemic hit and the board’s president amid tense negotiations with the teacher’s union, which almost went on strike in January.

He said he'll make an announcement at the board's meeting tonight and will leave after its next meeting April 10. The move comes as the Akron Public School District faces challenging questions about the future of its facilities amid declining enrollment, as well as a likely need for the district to take a school levy to voters in the next few years.

The district will also will be searching for a permanent superintendent after former Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack announced her resignation last month.

Current Board President Derrick Hall and Board member Valerie McKitrick’s terms are also up in November, leaving three seats, including Akbar’s, open on the board.

Hall is running for an Akron City Council seat and it’s not clear whether McKitrick plans to run for re-election. An official with the Summit County Board of Elections confirmed Monday that no candidates have filed petitions to run for seats held by Akbar, Hall or McKitrick, though some local residents have pulled petitions, meaning they are seeking signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Akbar said he's leaving the board because he's accepted a "national position as a chief of equity," although he declined to note where.

Akbar, who is Black and lives in west Akron with his husband, Alex, said he was most proud of the board's focus on equity and transparency during his time on the board.

"I've always led thinking about little kids and little children who are like me, who struggled to read in elementary school, who had, you know, parents who struggled with different addictions and ... who come from very impoverished backgrounds," he said. "And I've always thought about them and said, 'You know, can I be the school board member that they needed or that I needed when I was younger?'"

Akbar said he wanted to highlight signs of progress during his tenure on the board, including eliminating prior vetting and allowing same-day sign-up for public comments; adopting a policy affirming students' and staff's right to use their chosen gender and names in school; the board creating a chief diversity officer position and an equity committee; the district adopting a strategic plan that it says centers achievement, equity and engagement and keeping staff employed and paid during the pandemic.

Akbar and other board members have been criticized for their treatment of former Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack by some prominent Akron community members, including Mayor Dan Horrigan, the head of the chamber of commerce and a representative of the GAR Foundation. Fowler-Mack left her job under a cloud after a harsh job evaluation from Akbar and other board members last year, along with attacks from the Akron Education Association, the teachers union, which claimed she failed to deal with issues of student misbehavior.

The board of education will have 30 days to appoint a replacement for Akbar after he steps down

Akbar and the board's leadership were credited in an Akron Beacon journal column written by Akron Education Association President Pat Shipe with helping to avert the teachers strike, although critics say they are getting more credit than they deserve.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.