By Harold C. Ford
“I’m just overwhelmed how we were left in March and she stepped up.”
…Vera Perry, board trustee, Flint Community Schools, June 25, 2020
At a special meeting of the board of education of Flint Community Schools (FCS) June 25, Derrick Lopez was terminated as FCS superintendent “without cause” in a 4-1 vote of those present.
Those voting to terminate Lopez’ contract were: Diana Wright, vice president; Danielle Green, treasurer; Blake Strozier, trustee; and Vera Perry, trustee. The motion to terminate was made by Green; it was seconded by Perry.
The same board members then voted 5-0 to offer the superintendent position to Anita Steward who had been elevated from her assistant superintendent position to assistant/interim superintendent one month earlier on May 20.
Members absent were board officers Casey Lester and Betty Ramsdell, president and secretary respectively. Ramsdell, present at the start of the meeting, absented herself when the board returned from a lengthy closed session.
Carol McIntosh, trustee, was the only member of the board to vote against the motion to terminate Lopez. Moments later, McIntosh ironically seconded the motion to offer Steward the just-vacated position.
“We were left”
Lopez lasted less than two years after assuming duties as Flint’s superintendent in August 2018. Lopez was suddenly suspended by the Flint board on April 15, 2020 “pending investigation”. No public explanation was given for Lopez’ suspension or termination.
A successful Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by MLive uncovered a memo with stated reasons for the March suspension of Lopez:
- “Lack of plan while reopening the district’s Northwestern school building as a junior high school.”
- “Lack of documentation on the relationship between the district and the McCree Theater.”
- “Lack of documentation on the relationship between the district and the Sylvester Broome Center.”
- “Issues with the termination of a former district director of operations and ancillary services.”
- “Failing to develop relationships with local partners to help amend an agreement with the Michigan Department of Education.”
Absent FOIA requests, regular board watchers sift the panel’s “tea leaves” seeking unstated explanations for the sudden dismissals of Flint’s last two full-time superintendents.
With no public explanation from the Flint board, Bilal Tawwab was suspended from the top post in March 2018. A subsequent FOIA request by MLive revealed an “ineffective” performance review by the board.
“I’m just overwhelmed how we were left in March and she (Steward) stepped up,” said Perry shortly after voting to terminate Lopez. No further explanation was offered by Perry.
In May of 2019, Lopez was one of seven candidates who interviewed for the superintendent’s job at Farmington Public Schools just nine months after his appointment as Flint’s superintendent.
“I’m just so happy we got the home-grown girl,” said McIntosh shortly after the vote to appoint Steward. “I think this is going to be beneficial for our district.”
“Steward graduated from FCS in 1993 and began her career in the district in 1998 as a sixth-grade teacher at Martin Elementary School,” according to a press release issued by the district’s public relations firm, Grand Rapids-based Lambert & Co. “She was promoted to the role of assistant principal in 2010 and principal in 2011. Steward also served as a part-time English teacher at Baker College from 2006-2010.”
“As principal of Freeman Elementary School at FCS, Steward increased state assessment M-STEP scores by 67%. Previously, as a teacher and curriculum coach, Steward helped with the implementation of standards-based lesson plans, evaluation tools, instruction and curriculum implementation…”
“Steward received her first master’s degree in the art of teaching from Marygrove College in Detroit, and her second master’s degree in K-12 administration from Eastern Michigan University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and language arts, with a minor in social science from University of Michigan-Flint. She also holds a Michigan School Administrator Certificate for K-12 and a Michigan Education Certificate for K-5 in all subjects.”
“She (Steward) made sure the students got what they needed,” observed Perry at the June 25 board meeting. “I believe she’s going to be a collaborative type of superintendent. We have gotten more emails from her in three months than we got in two years from the other person,” continued Perry with an obvious reference to Lopez.
“I have confidence she will do a great job with our support,” added Wright.
Seven superintendents in 15 years:
Thus, Steward becomes at least the seventh Flint superintendent in the past 15 years. They include: Walter Milton (2005-2007); Linda Thompson (2008-2012); Lawrence Watkins (2013-2015); Bilal Tawwab (2015-2018); Gregory Weatherspoon (2018); Derrick Lopez (2018-2020); Anita Steward (2020-?).
EVM Education Beat reporter and staff writer Harold Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.