By Harold C. Ford
At a special meeting of the Flint Board of Education on April 15, Derrick Lopez, Flint’s superintendent for the past 20 months since his appointment in Aug. 2018, was suspended with pay “pending investigation.” Notably, Lopez had been absent from the last two meetings of the board.
Assistant Superintendent Anita Steward was named interim superintendent “effective immediately.”
“I am very thankful, humbled, and honored to be able to start in this capacity,” said Steward in a statement to the board, “though it is under very unfortunate circumstances.” (Steward’s statement, in full, can be found at the end of this article.).
The suspension of Lopez and the appointment of Steward both came on unanimous 5-0 votes of the board of education members present at the start of a special meeting called prior to a regular meeting of the board. Board members present included: Casey Lester, president; Diana Wright, vice president; Danielle Green, treasurer; and trustees Carol McIntosh and Vera Perry.
Lopez’s suspension marks the second time in two years the Flint board has removed its superintendent without explanation. Former superintendent Bilal Tawwab was suddenly dismissed in March 2018.
Four rapid-fire motions led to Lopez suspension:
Lasting less than 10 minutes, the Flint board quickly and unanimously passed four motions that ousted Lopez and inserted Steward in the superintendent’s office. The motions, in succession, did the following:
- The Flint board suspended bylaw 13.20 that required a 48-hour notice in advance of a special meeting.
- The board ordered that a disciplinary memorandum dated Oct. 17, 2019 be placed in Lopez’s file. The full text of the motion: “Therefore, be it resolved that the Flint Board of Education approves the issuance of a disciplinary memorandum to Superintendent Derrick Lopez dated October 17, 2019 and authorizes the Board president to execute the disciplinary memorandum on the Board’s behalf and cause said disciplinary memorandum to be placed in the personnel record of the Superintendent.”
- Lopez was suspended “pending investigation.” The full text of the motion: “Therefore, be it resolved that the Flint Board of Education places the district superintendent on paid suspension pending conclusion of Board investigation and authorizes the Board President to inform the District Superintendent of this suspension and take action necessary to permit the prompt completion of investigation by Board Counsel.”
- Steward was appointed interim superintendent “effective immediately.” The full text of the motion: “Now therefore, be it resolved that the Board of Education appoints Anita Steward as Interim District Superintendent pursuant to Board Policy 21.30 effective immediately.”
Seven positions in 15 years:
Including his appointment as Flint superintendent in 2018, Lopez held seven positions in 15 years from 2003 to 2018. They included:
- 2003-2004: principal, Highland Park High School
- 2004-2007: principal, Berkley High School
- 2007-2009: chief of high school reform, Pittsburgh Public Schools
- 2009-2011: assistant superintendent for secondary schools, Pittsburgh Public Schools
- 2011-2014: president and CEO of Homewood Children’s Village, Pittsburgh
- 2015-2018: interim superintendent and associate superintendent, Southfield Public Schools
- 2018-2020: superintendent, Flint Community Schools
Lopez was one of seven candidates who interviewed for the superintendent’s job at Farmington Public Schools, as reported by the publication Hometown Life on May 9, 2019, just nine months after his appointment as Flint’s superintendent.
A.C. Dumas, vice president of the NAACP Flint Branch, challenged Lopez’s commitment to Flint during a board meeting on Jan. 23, 2020. “I know, Dr. Lopez, you really don’t want to be here because you put in applications everywhere else,” said Dumas. “You don’t want to be here. Your heart’s not here.”
Lopez, a resident of the Detroit metropolitan area, has apparently never established a residence in Flint or Genesee County.
Seven superintendents in 15 years:
Thus, Steward becomes at least the seventh Flint superintendent in the past 15 years. They include:
- 2005-2007: Walter Milton
- 2008-2012: Linda Thompson
- 2013-2015: Lawrence Watkins
- 2015-2018 Bilal Tawwab
- 2018-Aug. 2018: Gregory Weatherspoon
- 2018-March 2020: Derrick Lopez
- April 2020-?: Anita Steward
And, according to Blake Thorne at mlive.com, “Before (Linda) Thompson took the helm, the district went through six superintendents in as many years.”
Teacher union concern:
“I am concerned that, as a union president, I am finding out in an open forum that the superintendent is suspended,” said Karen Christian, United Teachers of Flint president. “There should be a meeting with union heads.”
“I will say this is a shock this is how union leaders found out there is an issue and an investigation with Superintendent Lopez,” Bruce Jordan said. “I think it is wise to set up a Zoom meeting with all leadership to discuss.”
Continuity of learning plan:
Steward outlined a “continuity of learning” plan for Flint students who are now homebound due to the coronavirus pandemic and suspension of face-to-face, brick and mortar education the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
Per the order of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Flint’s plan must be submitted to the Genesee Intermediate School District and then to the State of Michigan. The plan must be fully implemented by April 28.
The components of Flint’s plan, according to Steward, include the following:
- Development of frequently asked questions and answers for employees and parents;
- All 9th-12th grade students are to receive devices to continue online learning and interact with teachers via emails and phone calls;
- A “blended learning approach” for K-8th grade students with three tiers: 1) students who already possess an electronic device at home plus internet service; 2) students who have a device but don’t have internet will be encouraged to sign up for free internet for 60 days; 3) students who have no device or internet will be provided learning packets; and an attempt will be made to provide them an internet “hotspot” and a Title I electronic device
Before adjournment, the board approved a resolution to secure a hotspot service agreement.
Anita Steward’s statement to the board:
“I am very thankful, humbled, and honored to be able to start in this capacity though it is under very unfortunate circumstances. I do want you to know that I am humbled and honored. So, thank you.”
“The safety and well-being of our students and staff is our primary focus. As you know, the pandemic has had a devastating impact on our community and forced K through 12 education to change dramatically for the remainder of the year. Despite that, our commitment to students’ well-being and education must continue.”
“We are deeply grateful to all of those who continue to collaborate with our district amongst those ever-changing circumstances. In particular, I’d like to thank administrators, teachers, staff, union leadership, board of education, and external partners including CSM, Sodexo Magic, Vartek, and Crim. At every stage of this crisis, their contributions to the health and well-being of our students has been incredible.”
“As the situation continues to change, we know that communication is key. We’ve been working hard to keep families informed. In recent weeks, we have created parent letters and robocalls with updates on school closures, full lunch distribution plans, and a timeline of our distance learning plan.”
“We’ve utilized social media and the website to provide updates on the governor’s executive orders, Covid-19, food distribution, frequently asked questions, and employee policies.”
“We contacted our seniors in high school regarding maintaining the momentum and excitement despite the change in plans.”
“We participated in the (Flint) mayor’s town hall meeting and Q and A with residents; monitored daily questions from parents and community members on social media and responded to inquiries; communicated with staff to share relevant updates, frequently asked questions, and words of encouragement; distributed updates and opinion pieces to the media to keep the community engaged and informed; contacted principals, teachers, and community partners to gather stories for reading videos during our story hour.”
“We are grateful for the continued support from our families, the board of education, teachers, and staff, and the community as a whole.”
“We are committed to the well-being of our students and families and we will continue to adapt so their needs are met. The virus is unforgiving. Our community is strong. We will move forward together. Thank you.”
EVM Staff Writer and Education Beat Reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.