As predicted here on November 16, the superintendent of the Richardson ISD, Dr. Jeannie Stone, submitted her resignation. On Monday, December 13, 2021, the board of trustees voted to accept it at a meeting packed with Stone supporters.
On December 11, 2021, I speculated on the causes for the resignation. I said it wasn't because of public criticism. I said it was because of hostility among new members of the board of the trustees, which made it impossible for the superintendent to work. But I freely admitted that, unless Dr. Stone herself speaks up, we can never be sure. Now that her "Voluntary Separation and Release Agreement" is public, we learn that Dr. Stone is never likely to speak out. Her agreement prohibits either side from talking about the separation.
So, we have to rely on the next best thing. In September, board President Karen Clardy abruptly resigned. She issued no statement explaining her departure. Today, after Dr. Stone's own departure, Clardy finally breaks her silence. In a long and frank interview with The Dallas Morning News Metro columnist Share Grigsby, Clardy opens up.
Clardy needs no help from me spelling out how bad things have gotten on the RISD school board. Read it yourself.
‘A huge mistake’: Ex-Richardson ISD leader slams lack of support for superintendent Jeannie Stone
by Sharon Grigsby
Dallas Morning News
Karen Clardy says it’s been excruciating to stay quiet since her surprise resignation from the Richardson school board in late September -- a decision that left trustees without their experienced president and superintendent Jeannie Stone without her biggest supporter.
In Clardy’s first interview since her Sept. 24 departure -- and just after the news broke that Stone too is leaving -- she revealed to me Saturday morning why she walked away from the battle.
Contrary to what you read in a lot of places, it wasn’t the relentless onslaught of parent complaints that drove Clardy off from work she loved.
It was her fellow trustees.
“I was not going to be part of the board that got rid of Dr. Jeannie Stone,” Clardy told me. “They have just made a huge mistake.”
That’s my assessment as well after the RISD board approved a voluntary separation agreement Monday night under which Stone resigned her position. Count me with the 45 or more parents, teachers and students who spoke before the vote, those who protested outside and the thousands who have signed a pro-Stone online petition -- all expressing sadness, anger and embarrassment over the board’s action.
This school board better take a deep look inside itself after its shameful lack of support for a superintendent that any district would be lucky to employ.
It’s a wonder Clardy didn’t bite her tongue in two during the months she endured the condolences of well-intentioned people: “Oh bless your heart, you poor thing. These parents got to you.”
Mean-spirited words hardly trouble this woman, who has survived lung cancer, six months of chemo, a house fire -- and every imaginable flavor of parental crisis during her quarter of a century as executive assistant at Lake Highlands High School.
“This resignation was nothing to do with the harassing emails and rude comments I was getting from parents,” she said. “It was what was going on among the trustees.”
Clardy had sensed for months that her colleagues’ actions would force Stone’s departure. She worried that trustees -- almost all of them in their first term of board service -- increasingly were swayed by public complaints from “a loud minority” rather than standing strong on policies made in the best interest of all students.
The other reason Clardy resigned -- and why she only now broke her silence -- was on the slimmest of chances that her departure might jolt the other trustees into considering a restart with Stone.
“When I left, I feared where the board was going,” Clardy said. “I tried to be hopeful and thought, maybe if I step down, maybe the dynamics would change. I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Instead, things deteriorated into the”voluntary separation” action that the school board unanimously approved Monday night. Underneath all the legal language, you’ve got a superintendent who had no choice but to resign because she lost the backing and trust of her board.
Clardy said that as she has watched things unravel, she’s often second-guessed her decision.
“I do have regrets sometimes about leaving. I loved serving on the board,” she said. “But I don’t think there was anything that I could have done or said to bring the team of eight [the trustees and Stone] together.”
As soon as I read Friday’s news about Stone’s departure, reported first by my colleagues Talia Richman and Corbett Smith, I texted the superintendent in hopes of talking directly to her.
It’s the first time I’ve ever not gotten a call-back from Stone since she became superintendent in January 2017.
The agreement between Stone and the board will almost certainly prevent her from ever commenting on what happened. The most we are likely to hear is this social media post, tweeted by Stone on Friday:
“It’s One Vision. It’s talented people connecting to build a culture where it’s safe to Say Something. It’s All Means All. It’s trust and it’s empowering people. It’s believing We’ve Got This even in the hardest of times … and it’s the Power of Love that makes it all worth it.”
That tweet contains Stone’s mantra from day one, “All Means All,” a testament to her dedication to ensure that all students get a fair shake -- starting with academics -- in the state’s fourth most diverse district.
The current board not only is far different from the one that hired Stone but also from the one that took two huge steps in 2019: Unanimously adopting the RISD Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Policy and ending a voting-rights lawsuit by adding single-member districts to increase minority representation on the board.
Trustee Eron Linn has been on the board since 2015, but the other five trustees are in their first three-year term: Board president Regina Harris and Eric Eager were elected in November 2019, Debbie Renteria was elected in May 2020, and Megan Timme and Chris Poteet were elected last spring.
It’s a board that has rarely publicly supported Stone as parents’ criticisms grew, and that signaled a leadership change was the best way forward.
Clardy told me that the harsh criticism lobbed both in public comments at board meetings and on social media is always difficult for new board members to successfully navigate. That’s become even more challenging during the pandemic as parents and their allies increasingly kick around boards like political footballs.
As board president, Clardy said she encouraged colleagues to follow data and experience of administrators, not the loudest voices in the community. “You can’t be concerned with what people are saying or thinking, as long as you know you are doing what’s right for all the kids,” she told me.
Neither Clardy nor I suggest that the board tune out parents. Many adults in Richardson ISD are dissatisfied with the district for all sorts of reasons -- test scores, mask requirements, diversity efforts and social-emotional learning.
But a campaign of disinformation, confusion and scare tactics has made for a toxic and not-always-honest debate in Richardson. At greatest risk are those thousands of students whose parents haven’t spent 2021 fighting Stone’s policies.
This district, like those all across the U.S., must juggle a lot of challenges, starting with the reality of academic learning losses amid a pandemic far from over. Lawsuits against school districts by the state and parents are now the norm. Politics have infiltrated school boards and damaged board governance.
Our teachers, support staff, principals and superintendents -- like nurses and doctors -- have been on the exhausting frontlines of COVID for 20 months. No other profession has faced the kind of daily inquisition that educators and their bosses face.
They deserve school boards that will stand up for them.
Unless the state has a change of heart, every district in Texas will be judged next spring on students’ knowledge and skill requirements -- without recognition of the toll this last two years has taken on everyone.
Teachers are being forced to push their students forward as if there were no gaps -- and the academic gaps aren’t even as serious as the social-emotional ones. Just last week, the U.S. surgeon general released a report warning that the pandemic and other major issues faced by teens is causing “devastating” mental health effects.
Now imagine confronting all these issues in a district as diverse as Richardson, where 60% of its almost 40,000 student population live in Dallas and almost 57% of all kids are economically disadvantaged. Today, 39% of the district’s students are Hispanic, 29% are white, 22% are Black and 7% are Asian.
Having worked in Richardson ISD for 26 years before her retirement and eventual election to the school board, Clardy knows these challenges first hand. It’s why she stood beside Stone in efforts to bring in learning tools and programs to ensure that academic needs of all students are being met.
Whether the issue is social-emotional lessons such as bullying or current-events teachings that might veer into racial topics, Clardy worries that Stone’s forced departure sends a chilling message.
She also believes that the complaints this year at school board meetings don’t represent the views of the majority of district parents -- most of them stressed to the max and with just enough time, maybe, to check that their kids did their homework.
“Board members need to look at what’s best for all students and best for the teachers,” she told me. “Trustees must value the experience and knowledge of the superintendent and keep politics out of the boardroom.
This episode is much more than a sad day for Richardson ISD. It’s the day that bullies won.
Among the Stone supporters who addressed the board was one who said “you have awakened a sleeping giant and we will vote.”
That first opportunity will come in May. I hope the community doesn’t forget.Source: The Dallas Morning News.