Akron school board faces backlash for resignation of superintendent
The Akron Board of Education is facing backlash after the announced resignation of Superintendent Christine Fowler-Mack after roughly a year and a half on the job.
Christine Mayer, with the GAR Foundation, said they are “deeply disappointed” by Fowler-Mack’s departure from Akron Public Schools, which came after the board’s leadership harshly criticized her in her first performance evaluation last year.
“Our experience with her was universally positive,” Mayer said. “She was highly skilled in the role and she put kids first in every decision. She navigated APS through the unprecedented challenges COVID presented and she had a solid vision for moving the district forward. Unfortunately, this board never gave her the opportunity to do the job they hired her to do.”
The Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce's CEO also voiced concern with the board's fitness to lead.
Former board president N.J. Akbar called Fowler-Mack “insubordinate,” and others wrote that Fowler-Mack had “failed” in her leadership in those evaluations.
The board and Fowler-Mack announced her resignation in a joint statement Monday night after the board voted – without any discussion – to approve her resignation and a separation agreement. That separation agreement includes a non-disparagement clause for Fowler-Mack and release of any future legal claims against the district, along with paying out the rest of Fowler-Mack’s contract to the tune of more than $460,000.
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan in a statement thanked Fowler-Mack for her service as she navigated the school district through the pandemic and “challenging times,” noting her place in history as Akron Public Schools’ first female African-American superintendent. He also issued a note of caution to the board.
“It’s disappointing that once again the district will have to find new leadership at such a critical time for our kids and our community,” he wrote. “Past and current board leaders better need to understand their roles around board governance and district stability as they approach their relationship with the next superintendent if they hope to provide continuity and cohesive leadership to Akron’s students, teachers and staff.”
Neither Board President Derrick Hall nor past president N.J. Akbar responded to multiple requests for comment.
Hall, in an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, said many criticizing the board have not sat down to talk with the board about those concerns.
"I and this board have given the opportunity to sit down and converse and collaborate with any of our civic leaders at anytime. And up to this point,” Hall said, “we have largely not been afforded an opportunity to do that.”
City Councilman Shammas Malik, a mayoral hopeful, said Fowler-Mack’s resignation didn’t come as a surprise to him.
“I think it was pretty clear that there was a trust gap between the two parties,” he said. “And that's really unfortunate. And I think, you know, my hope is just that going forward, we're able to find a place where, you know, the board is able to select someone who they have confidence in and who they give the space in the room to be able to make decisions.”
Malik joined a majority of other City Council members last year to vote to approve a resolution that rebuked the school board for its lack of support for Fowler and its harsh evaluation of her.
Fowler-Mack also faced significant pushback from teachers at Akron Public Schools through tumultuous contract negotiations last year, where teachers’ concerns with safety and security loomed large, especially after high-profile incidents including a student being stabbed and two students being caught with guns at school buildings.
Pat Shipe, Akron Education Association president, had made several statements throughout the course of the negotiations arguing Fowler-Mack had failed as a leader and was mismanaging the district, including alleging – without evidence – that she did not live in the school district.
Shipe said in an interview this week that she didn’t want to rehash those statements. But she said Fowler-Mack’s leadership style did not endear her with teachers.
“I believe that even outside of negotiations, there were many instances where my members overwhelmingly felt like they were not listened to, they were not sought out for input, and it impacted classrooms,” she said. “And so therefore, again, we're looking to the future and we're hopeful that somebody with the philosophy of collaboration, the philosophy of leading with an ear open to the educators around them will lead to the district really accomplishing, first of all, facing the challenges that we have.”