The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) will take up the future of Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon after mixed performance reviews sparked a two-hour public comment and school board discussion Tuesday night.
Three of the five SBAC members, Robert Hyatt, Dr. Gunnar Paulson and Mildred Russell, ranked Simon as needing improvement or unsatisfactory in her annual review. Dr. Leanetta McNealy and Vice Chair Tina Certain rated Simon as highly effective.
The review process was Simon’s first since the board named her interim superintendent in December 2020. The SBAC made her permanent last March.
At Tuesday’s meeting parents, teachers, staff and elected officials came forward to speak about the evaluations and Simon’s performance as she led the district through a pandemic.
UF professor David Kaplan was first to address the board in support of Simon’s accomplishments in her first year as superintendent, which he listed as developing partnerships with the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and the Alachua County Health Department. He also commended Simon’s “hard work on COVID-19 safety protocols.”
Four elected officials from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Gainesville City Commission came forward in support of Simon.
BOCC member Ken Cornell said Simon was able to improve student achievements, increase graduation rates and close opportunity gaps.
“She had an open door,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to continuing to work to improve the lives of kids in our communities.”
BOCC member Anna Prizzia said she was speaking as a parent of a middle schooler at Westwood Middle School.
“It was amazing watching her leadership through COVID…making sure teachers and students were safe while dealing with politics, national attention, and criticism,” Prizzia said.
Some parents criticized Simon for defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ orders against mask mandates. Her defenders said it was the SBAC who directed Simon to enforce the policies it set.
One teacher called anonymously to report that teacher and staff morale is too low and teachers are afraid to speak on the record about it.
Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola said the city took up closing racial disparities as a priority and he hopes to continue tackling the same issues in partnership with the SBAC and Simon.
“This is a very key year for our society,” he said. “We cannot turn back the progress we made.”
Hyatt reminded commenters that the agenda item was simply to add the evaluations to the record.
“We’re here to accept into the record the five evaluations,” he said.
McNealy praised Simon during her comments.
“Dr. Simon has performed all services in the manner consistent with the highest standards of professional conduct,” she said, adding that Simon is a “team player.”
Simon thanked the SBAC for the evaluations and feedback and acknowledged opportunities to “build relationships and improve.”
“I am committed to supporting the board and their direction,” Simon said. “I hope we can move forward together for this school district and the children we serve.”
During closing comments, Russell said she would like the board to discuss what the evaluation means moving forward.
“There were three members of the board that had a lot of concerns,” she said. “I want to discuss those because we need a remedy going forward.”
Simon responded “Are you asking to put my contract on the next board meeting?”
Russell then made the request to the chair for the March 1 meeting.
“Where does this lead?” McNealy asked.
Tension grew as Hyatt reminded McNealy about Simon’s rushed interim appointment just four days after former Superintendent Karen Clarke left the position. The 3-2 vote went against Hyatt and Paulson’s wishes of asking for community input.
McNealy said if Hyatt was adding Simon’s contract to the March 1 agenda, the public would show up in numbers.
“If you really want the public to speak about where we go with the superintendent’s contract, this room is not big enough,” she said.
Hyatt thanked her for the suggestion and said he encourages full public participation.