The Alachua County School Board appointed former Deputy Superintendent Sandy Hollinger as interim superintendent on Monday.
Hollinger will temporarily serve as superintendent while the board searches for a permanent replacement for Owen Roberts, who resigned under pressure from the school board on June 21.
More than 60 people showed up to watch as the nomination passed 4-1, with Leanetta McNealy being the only board member to give a definitive “no.”
During the meeting, McNealy said Karen Clarke, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instructional services, should’ve been considered.
“If we want to see the continuum of the projects that we voted on, then Mrs. Clarke would be the individual. She’s been through everything with us,” McNealy said to her board.
Clarke also temporarily filled in for Roberts until an interim was selected.
Clarke said she was happy to serve either way.
“It’s just a matter of making sure that the district is moving in the right direction, and that we’re continuing to make improvements and increase our student achievement,” she said.
Retired educator Sarah Richardson also voiced her opinion against Hollinger during the meeting, saying she has not “proven to be a ‘yes’ girl.”
Richardson said she worked in the Alachua County school system for nearly 35 years and seven of those were spent with Hollinger.
“I think it’s taking a step back to bring her on as interim superintendent,” Richardson told the board.
She wasn’t the only one who left feeling disappointed in both the decision the board made and the board itself.
Local business owner Diyonne McGraw is concerned the board in its present structure could prohibit progress.
“Right now with the current make-up of the board, besides Dr. McNealy, you won’t have that transformation of change,” McGraw said.
Eileen Roy, chair of the board, said she understands why people might be angry.
“Mrs. Hollinger is quite experienced as an administrator in this district. She is someone who is very well respect in the community,” Roy said. “I just think a lot of it is a carry-over from the controversy over the superintendent who just resigned.”
Roberts resigned after receiving three negative annual evaluations from board members, claiming he had low morale, a lack of transparency and questioned if he plagiarized in his self-published book.
“I believe the evaluations were very personal. They were not really written for growth,” McNealy said. “Last year at the same time, four of the board members gave him a rating of ‘highly effective.’ How can individual fall to unsatisfactory within a year? Something is not right with that picture.”
Although Roberts was seen by many as a role model, particularly to the black community, board member Gunnar Paulson said a lot went wrong in the past six months.
One area of contention was the lesson plans he implemented that took over 15 hours for teachers complete, Paulson said. Another was the diminishing scores of Lake Forest Elementary School, the lowest performing school in the county.
“We didn’t hire him because he was black, we hired him because he was the best man,” he said. “And we let him go because we thought he wasn’t doing a good job. He made too many mistakes and the district was in turmoil.”
McNealy said it would have been Roberts’ second anniversary working as superintendent on Friday.
“Naturally Roberts was very disappointed, but he has always said that if he cannot get the support of the board that the work will stop anyway,” she said. “It was nothing for him to do at that point.”
Even though she’s still disappointed, McNealy said she’s ready to look forward with all of her board members.
“I’m ready to ensure that we are committed to the success of all students,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that if we want to do what is right for students, we will come together as a board, become unified in the plan of action we’re going to take and will not stop the initiatives that have been put in place by Dr. Roberts.”
Richardson hopes the future superintendent will follow a similar path that Roberts had set out for the community.
“If we could get someone who care about the children in Alachua County the way Dr. Roberts did, I’d be pleased with that person,” she said. “I’m ashamed to say that I did vote for [the board], but it won’t happen again.”