The Muscogee County School District’s special-education director has resigned.
Mary Lewis emailed the following statement to some parents and advocates of special-education students Tuesday:
“I am reaching out to notify you that I have requested to leave the position of Executive Director for the Program for Exceptional Students in the next few weeks or so. I have asked to be considered for a teaching position in the district so I can continue to be part of the team of WE and to support Dr. Lewis and the cabinet.”
Dr. Lewis is MCSD superintendent David Lewis, who isn’t related to Mary Lewis.
“Please know that I did not reach this decision lightly but at this time it is best for me personally,” she continued. “I hope that each of you can understand that sometimes you have to take a step back and evaluate your life personally and professionally so you can move forward. Thanks to you, I am driven to take some classes in Assistive Technology, working with students with Dyslexia and High Functioning Autism, and different teaching strategies so that I can better understand these specific needs.
“I wish I could speak with each of you regarding this decision and how much you are needed but that is not possible. I know that some individuals will be thankful that I am leaving and I hope that someone is hired who can meet their individual concerns.
“Please know that I will cherish knowing and working with you. You have taught me how to build bridges and collaborate when things seemed impossible. You have advocated for kids and even when we didn’t agree on the path to take, came to the table to work it out. You are greatly needed and have what it takes to Be the Change for our kids and the district.
“Please work with Dr. Vickers as she has vast knowledge of special education and a great heart. She will work directly with the team to ensure that things continue to move forward until someone is hired. Please keep up the great work for our kids.”
Dr. Vickers is Angela Vickers, whom the Muscogee County School Board voted 5-3-1 in June to approve as the students services chief, which oversees special education. Vickers was the supervisor of educational leadership development for the School District of Hillsborough County, Fla., before she replaced the retired Melvin Blackwell, who was the MCSD’s student services chief for the past six years.
Mary Lewis has been special-education director for four years. She succeeded Patrick Knopf when he replaced the retired Carol Bradshaw as research and accountability director. Mary Lewis has worked in MCSD for 16 years. She taught special education at Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy 2001-03 and Cusseta Road Elementary School 2003-06. She was an instructional specialist for exceptional students from 2006-13, including interim program director from July-October in 2010.
Columbus resident Lisa Jenkins, mother of a special-needs child and co-founder of the parent coalition called Anchors for Autism, has gone from one of the most outspoken critics of MCSD’s special education to one of its most ardent supporters while Mary Lewis has been director.
Jenkins sued MCSD after finding her son strapped to a classroom chair in 2008. In April of this year, she said at a forum about alternative education in MCSD that, after a “very long, very expensive process, five years, three courts,” her son is in a self-contained classroom and receiving the services he needs and she sought.
No wonder that Jenkins expressed her reaction to Mary Lewis’ resignation like this on her Facebook page Tuesday:
“I literally am crying. She has moved mcsd so far and her plans to keep going forward were amazing .
I know any child who gets Mary C Lewis in the classroom has gotten an angel.
I'm sure some are happy she has left but not this mama.
Not only was she the best Special Education Director I have ever worked with in any county, I got to call her friend too!”
Mary Lewis was among the superintendent’s officials who made the controversial recommendation in March to hire Camelot Education, a private, for-profit company based in Austin, Texas, to run three alternative education programs in the Muscogee County School District for $6.4 million annually. The divided board rejected the proposal in April.
The board instead appointed the Alternative Education Community Advisory Committee, which is scheduled to submit its final report and recommendations in September.
Meanwhile, MCSD’s special education will be directed on an interim basis by retired educator Jeanella Pendleton. She confirmed to the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Tuesday night that the administration asked her to fill in until a permanent director was hired.
Asked why she agreed, Pendleton said, “I still have a heart for children and Muscogee County, and that’s the reason.”
Pendleton began her 40-year career in MCSD as a special-education teacher at Davis Elementary School and Marshall Middle School before becoming assistant principal at Muscogee Elementary School and Reese Road Elementary. In 1996, she became principal of Reese Road, now called Reese Road Leadership Academy. Since announcing her retirement in 2012, she has been interim principal at Lonnie Jackson Academy and back at Reese Road.
Pendleton said her first day of work as interim special-education director will be Sept. 5.
Responding to the Ledger-Enquirer’s questions, Superintendent Lewis emailed the following statement Wednesday morning:
“Mrs. Mary Lewis, after much soul searching and discussion with us, has asked to step aside from her current position as the Executive Director of Programs for Exceptional Students for personal reasons. Mrs. Lewis has provided great vision and strong leadership in improving our special education programs over the past four years. While her expertise and personal dedication to our students with special needs will be difficult to replace, I am supportive of her need to tend to personal matters at this time. She will be remain with the district in a part-time teaching role, and will help Dr. Angela Vickers prepare for the transition over the next few weeks as we begin the hiring process for her replacement.
“To assist Dr. Angela Vickers on an interim basis, I have authorized the temporary hiring of Mrs. Jeanella Pendleton to support the day-to-day operational management needs of this critical program. Mrs. Pendleton, one of MCSD’s retired principals, has helped us over the past few years with temporary, interim assignments. Her original teaching background was in special education, and her many effective years of school administration with our district will provide Dr. Vickers with the support she needs to keep daily processes and customer service coordinated for students, parents and school administrators. Mrs. Pendleton will start this interim assignment with the Programs for Exceptional Students on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.
“Dr. Vickers is working with Human Resources to start advertising and vetting qualified candidates, and we hope to have a candidate within a couple of months.”