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Alachua County superintendent's contract will be reviewed following board members' negative evaluations

Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon watches on Tuesday as the board evaluates her performance in her job. (Will Levenson/WUFT News)
Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon watches on Tuesday as the board evaluates her performance in her job. (Will Levenson/WUFT News)

Three of the five Alachua County School Board members on Tuesday gave Superintendent Carlee Simon poor annual evaluations, yet she received glowing reviews from parents, teachers and community leaders.

For now, her job is safe. But an impending evaluation lies ahead.

Following an outpouring of support from members of the community on Tuesday, board member Mildred Russell requested that a review of Simon’s contract be added to the March 1 board meeting agenda. In her evaluation, Russell said Simon is "developing."

Board Chair Rob Hyatt said she needs improvement while member Gunnar Paulson found her work to be unsatisfactory.

Questions arose about Paulson’s working relationship with Simon after she said she would only communicate with him in writing or with a witness present.

Paulson described his relationship with Simon as “decent,” following the meeting. Before he left, he shook Simon’s hand and thanked her for attending his wife’s funeral weeks ago.

“You see, she’s nice to an old man,” he said before leaving the room.

Simon said the meeting went as she expected. The community was not shy to praise the superintendent.

“Anybody who has this position maintains their position at the will of the board,” Simon said after the meeting. “It’s a 3-2 vote, and you have a job or you don’t have a job.”

Julie Crosby, a coordinator at the UF at Santa Fe Center, said Simon endured a monumental task of “initiating programs and hiring staff to turn this ship around.” Crosby said she believes that Simon has been effective, citing a new partnership Simon had built with UF.

Segments of the community commended numerous times work Simon did during the pandemic.

“It was amazing to watch her leadership during COVID,” said Anna Prizzia, a county commissioner and parent of a middle-schooler. “I’m really grateful to her service and I hope to see her for many more years.”

Gwendolyn Simmons, a former UF professor, called in to share her support of Simon.

“[Simon] has done an amazing job,” Simmons said. “Thank you, Dr. Simon, for your commitment to all the children of Alachua County.”

Support for Simon was not exclusive to the community. Two board members, Leanetta McNealy and Tina Certain, both evaluated Simon as highly effective.

Few at the meeting lauded Simon more than McNealy, who referred to her leadership as “exemplary.”

“[Simon] has never come across as argumentative,” McNealy said, “but kind and gentle in helping the board to reach our decisions.”

Despite such praise, it hadn’t always been this way for Simon. Simon received backlash from the community after being named interim superintendent in December 2020.

Much of the response came from a perceived lack of communication between her, the board and the community, her qualifications as a superintendent and her decision to not renew the contracts of nine school administrators shortly after her hiring.

“There’s always room to improve communication,” Simon said in response to these concerns. “I get hundreds of emails a day.”

To combat this, Simon and her team created a new system called “Let’s Talk,” which allows people to submit concerns or questions from the school board website.

Many had worried that Simon’s lack of experience as a teacher or school administrator would hinder her ability to engage with faculty. But Simon said that in Florida most superintendents are elected officials, many of whom were not teachers or principles.

“I’m a CEO of an organization that has 4,000 employees and 30,000 students that are… customers to the district,” she said.

As for the administrators whose contracts were not renewed, Simon said they did not meet her expectations.

Still, despite support shown from the community, some believe there’s more to the story.

Karen McCann, a former teacher, counselor and president of the Alachua County Education Association teachers union, spoke on Tuesday at the board meeting. She believes many teachers are afraid to speak up and said teachers have called her fearful of losing their jobs.

“I can’t help those who won’t help themselves,” the retired McCann said. “You need to let board members know. But [teachers] are scared.”

One anonymous teacher did call in to the meeting.

“Morale for teachers has never been as low as it is this year,” the anonymous teacher said, adding that decisions Simon makes are for her own gain, not with teachers in mind.

With opinions split on Simon, attention has shifted to her contract review March 1. Given the packed house at the school district office on Tuesday, McNealy said there might be one issue with the next meeting.

“You need a larger room,” she said.

William is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing