The Palm Beach County School Board discussed on Wednesday the fate of school superintendent Arthur “Art” Johnson whose resignation was widely expected.
Johnson, who has served in the post for 10 years, is said to have offered to resign rather than having the board vote to fire him. His representatives have been in talks with School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri on the details of his separation and board members were scheduled to take it up Wednesday.
Vice-Chairwoman Debra Robinson and newly elected member Marcia Andrews – the two black board members – had called for Johnson to be fired. Robinson had said it was “time to go in a new direction.”
Robinson and Andrews cited what they regarded as the constant distraction surrounding Johnson by an investigation into an alleged cover-up involving his former Chief Academic Officer Jeffrey Hernandez. Hernandez had been moonlighting with a Memphis, Tenn., school district while being paid by Palm Beach County. Last August, Johnson said he had no problem with Hernandez’s action.
An investigation into the case is focusing on Hernandez’s school district payment records, why six months worth of his e-mails is missing and whether Hernandez and Johnson violated a district policy on sick leave. A report on the investigation is expected by April 30.
Johnson has had supporters and detractors in the black community.
Amefika Geuka, founder of the Joseph Littles – Nguzo Saba Charter School of Riviera Beach was outraged
last year when Johnson announced plans to revoke the school’s charter.
Geuka believed the only African-centered public school in the state was unfairly targeted, while Johnson cited the school’s financial woes and low academic performance among the reasons he wanted to close it. Geuka contended that the school’s “D” rating was due to the composition of its student population, many of whom were deemed “intellectually unteachable” and some having behavioral problems.
During a nearly six-month battle with the district, the school showed remarkable improvement on FCAT scores and the school board voted against revoking its charter. Subsequently, Johnson changed his mind and decided to give the school another chance.
Also, some black school district employees complained that Johnson was not paying enough attention to non-white students. In a Palm Beach Post article last April, Chuck Ridley, chairman of the Coalition
for Black Student Achievement, was quoted as saying Johnson and the district were “unable or unwilling” to address the issues of struggling “black and brown” students.
Johnson surprised his critics last year when he created a task force to look at the low graduation rate of black males. But he did so after a national study called attention to the poor graduation rates among black male students.
The Schott Foundation for Public Education in August released its “Yes We Can: the 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education.” The report said only 22 percent of African-American males in Palm Beach schools graduated on time during the 2007-2008 school year. That placed the county among the worst five school districts nationwide in graduating black males in districts with an enrollment of 10,000 or more black males. The foundation said the school district and others around the state were failing its black males.
Johnson tapped Gloria Crutchfield, a well-regarded administrator with a strong track record for turning schools around, to head the group. Monday, Crutchfield refused to comment on whether Johnson’s departure will affect the work of the task force.
But C. Ron Allen, a task force member and the founder and CEO of the Knights of Pythagoras Mentoring Network, said Johnson was to be commended for creating the group and addressing a serious problem facing young black males.
Asked whether he supported Johnson, Allen replied, “No matter how bad a person is perceived to be, if you look hard enough you will always find some good in that person. Regardless of what they accuse Dr. Johnson of doing, whether he did it or not, Dr. Johnson has made significant and tremendous contributions to Palm Beach County.”
“There have been more improvements to the African-American community under his watch. I’ve been watching this school system closely for more than 25 years and I have seen more of an impact under his regime than any other superintendent,” Allen said.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.