By Harold C Ford
East Village Magazine (EVM) has received information from a source who chooses to remain anonymous that documents a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the Flint Community Schools (FCS) Board of Education and FCS Superintendent Anita J. Steward.
On Jan. 7, 2021, Steward received from the Flint board a Superintendent Evaluation (covering the period July 2020-December 2020) that concluded “the superintendent’s job performance was highly effective,” the best rating possible.
A June 16, 2021 document warned Steward that “continued unacceptable performance, and/or conduct, could result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.”
January 2021 performance evaluation
The mid-year evaluation issued in January evaluated Steward in four categories: Community Relations; Staff Relations; Instructional Leadership; and Governance and Board Relations. Steward’s performance was rated “highly effective” in all four job performance categories.
Steward’s mid-year evaluation did not include a rating in a fifth category: Business and Finance or Student Data.
Choices of job performance ratings on the evaluation form include: Highly Effective (the best); Effective; Minimally Effective; and Ineffective (the lowest rating possible).
Also included in the 17-page evaluation form was the following statement:
“Superintendent Steward received an overall rating of ‘Highly Effective’ by the Board for the mid-year evaluation. The Board agreed unanimously that Superintendent Steward (sic) first six month’s job performance was excellent. She brought knowledge, professionalism and calm to the District during a period of transition.”
Board Vice President Diana Wright signed the form as the board’s previous president, Casey Lester, had just retired from the panel.
June 2021 reprimand
The June 16, 2021 document, titled “Flint Board Expectations of Superintendent,” indicated “the Superintendent may not fully understand the expectations from Board members relating to her communications with, and dissemination of information to, the Board of Education members…”
The board “resolved that it is the Superintendent’s responsibility to inform the entire Board of Education, collectively and in a timely manner, of all information that is pertinent regarding the school district…”
The board “further resolved that the Superintendent must cease all communication, as well as meetings (in-person, virtually, or over the telephone), with all partners and community foundations as well as affiliates of partners and community foundations, without the presence of the Board President and his or her designee.”
The document is signed by Carol McIntosh, board president. Issuance of the document was approved by the FCS board on a 4-3 vote.
Steward’s first year
On July 1, 2000, Steward and the Board of Education of School District of the City of Flint signed an Employment Agreement effective through June 30, 2023 “unless it (the Agreement) is terminated…”
Steward had become Flint’s Interim Superintendent only a few months earlier on April 15, 2020 after the board terminated the employment of her predecessor, Derrick Lopez. Thus, Steward became the seventh FCS superintendent in 15 years, 2005-2020.
Among the challenges that awaited Steward when she came onboard as Superintendent:
rapidly declining student enrollment and resultant loss of state aid; staff attrition; low test scores; outstanding lawsuits; unsettled employee contracts; an immensely disruptive pandemic; long-standing debt and annual deficits; a community upset by possible school closures; deteriorating infrastructure; 22 abandoned buildings and a dozen vacant properties; and a three-year state-imposed plan to reduce suspensions by 10 percent, increase student attendance to 90 percent; and increase test scores by 10 percent.
Yet, Steward appeared nearly unflappable and equal to the task as indicated by her January 2021 performance evaluation.
Bumps along the way
Nonetheless, careful watchers of Flint board-administration dynamics would have detected bumps in their relationship.
In June 2020, the first month of Steward’s superintendency, with McIntosh now serving as the board’s newly-elected president, the board quickly turned down the Steward administration’s plan for reopening schools and its pick of Stacey Watson to head up the Holmes building as principal.
On Feb. 17 2021 the board again turned down the Steward administration’s plan to reopen schools four days later on Feb. 22 despite administration assurances that “the buildings will be ready.”
In February 2021, Steward’s administration was admonished by the McIntosh-led board about its interactions with the Harvard group in exploring possibilities for the long-abandoned Flint Central campus.
Degrees of separation
The rejection of Watkins’ appointment to the principalship at Holmes may have been the most ironic decision by the board during Steward’s first year as superintendent.
Watkins was rejected by a 3-2 vote (four votes needed for approval) with McIntosh the first person to raise concerns about Watson because he attended the same schools (Beecher High School and Michigan State University) as Ernest Steward, FCS central administrator and husband of the superintendent.
“We should know ahead of time if you’re interviewing your friend,” admonished McIntosh.
It’s been reported to EVM that FCS Board President McIntosh and Superintendent Steward are cousins.
Editors’ Note: EVM has reached out to Steward, FCS Board President Carol McIntosh, and FCS Board Vice President Vera Perry for comments and interviews.
EVM Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at email@example.com.