The Muscogee County School Board has hired a new special-education director despite objections voiced by two board members.
The 6-2-1 vote during Monday night’s monthly meeting approved superintendent David Lewis’ recommendation of JoAnn Redden to fill the Muscogee County School District’s vacancy as executive director of programs for exceptional students. Since 1991, Redden has worked in various leadership roles for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Fla.
John Thomas of District 2 and Frank Myers of District 8 voted against the recommendation; Vanessa Jackson of District 3 abstained. No board member attending the work session last Monday voiced any opposition to hiring Redden. But in an email Saturday afternoon to his fellow members, Thomas listed the following “deficiencies” in Redden’s resume:
1. “All of the bullet points under ‘Career Summary’ are responsibilities of a Principal,” Thomas wrote. “There is no specific responsibility for heading up SPED.”
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2. “The resume lists no Central Office Experience under ‘Career Summary.’”
3. “Under ‘Professional Experience,’ there is a gap of undetermined length from 2013 to October 2015, and in August 2016 it appears she has returned to the classroom from the position of Principal at Van Buren Middle School. Why the gap, and why step down?”
4. “Also under ‘Professional Experience,’ Dr. Redden notes that she has experience with a number of special education eligibilities, including Slow Learning Disability, Physically Handicapped, Emotionally Handicapped, and Emotionally Mentally Handicapped. I have attached the Florida list of disability categories for your comparison. There is no ‘Slow’ Learning Disability, it is SPECIFIC Learning Disability; the use of the word ‘slow’ is typically considered to be an insult, and not part of generally accepted terminology. No one in Special Education would do that. Neither ‘Physically Handicapped’ nor ‘Emotionally Handicapped’ is on the list, and ‘Emotionally Mentally Handicapped’ is not a disability. None of these terms in the resume are currently accepted for students with disabilities. I certainly would expect the Executive Director of the Program for Exceptional Students to be fully conversant with the current terminology in the field at the very least.’”
Thomas concluded in his email, “I cannot support this selection and I will be voting, ‘No.’ I am asking you to do the same.”
Redden replaces Mary Lewis (not related to the superintendent), who announced her resignation in August to return to a teaching position. Jeanella Pendleton, retired principal of Reese Road Leadership Academy, has been filling in as interim director.
Redden will report to MCSD chief student services officer Angela Vickers, who also came from Hillsborough County, where she was supervisor of educational leadership development. With a 5-3-1 vote after a contentious debate June 19, the board approved Vickers to succeed the retired Melvin Blackwell.
In his email to the board, Thomas also noted Vickers served on the interview committee that resulted in the recommendation of Redden. Vickers “had some influence on who was selected,” Thomas wrote, “and this selection, given the lack of strengths in the specific area of Special Education, appears to me to have been more affected by a previous professional or personal relationship ... than by the qualifications of the candidate. Special Education in Muscogee County has been under pressure and scrutiny within the past year, and the department requires a very strong and experienced leader.”
Countering the criticism from Thomas, Lewis noted during the meeting that Vickers, Pendleton and an evaluation from Columbus State University unanimously recommended Redden. She also matches the special-education administrative needs expressed by principals and is an expert on dyslexia, which is the largest special-education problem in MCSD, Lewis said.
Myers said he is troubled that another recommendation from Lewis is coming from Florida, where Lewis worked in Polk County before coming to Columbus in July 2013.
Vice chairwoman Kia Chambers, the nine-member board’s lone countywide representative, expressed concern about another administrative position going to an outside candidate. But she said the superintendent told her that only four of the 17 applicants came from within MCSD.
District 7 representative Cathy Williams said she also received questions about the recommendation from constituents but every educator she asked about Redden told her “this is a good hire.”
Board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 said it is the superintendent’s responsibility to “deal with his team. ... We would be out of our lane to do that.”
After the vote, Williams said directing special education in MCSD is such a large job, she wants Lewis to bring back to the board “as quickly as possible” a recommendation to hire a second-in-command. In May, the board voted 5-4 to reject Lewis’ $6.4 million request to hire Camelot Education to run special-education programs for MCSD.
Redden has been a consultant and data collector for The SAM Innovation Project the past two years in Hillsborough, according to her resume. The project’s website says, “A SAM is a person or team of school staff members who meet with the principal each day to schedule instructional leadership time, reflect on impact and develop a first responder structure in the school. Most schools use existing staff, a secretary, vice-principal or teacher leader, to serve as the SAM team. Over 700 schools in eighteen states contract for SAM services.”
Mark Rice: 706-576-6272, @markricele