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School Superintendent Fired; Stunned Community Reacts

School Superintendent Fired;  Stunned Community Reacts School Superintendent Fired;  Stunned Community Reacts

Montgomery Countians were in shock Friday morning after waking up to the news that the Board of Education had voted to terminate popular School Superintendent Hugh Kight. As the day continued, an increasing number of outraged parents and students carrying signs and chanting “Fight for Kight” staged a protest about the decision in front of the Board Offices in Mount Vernon. Kight’s termination took place in a called meeting held Thursday, March 18, at the Board offices. Dur­continued from page

ing the 6 p.m. session Dr. Jim Paul Poole, Board Chairman, and members Debra Gay and Eugene Ward voted to fire Kight. Board members Henry Price, Board Vice Chair, and Susan Beard did not support the action.

The Board has not commented publicly about the reason behind their actions, but Kight issued the following statement Friday: “One of my duties as Superintendent is to recommend qualified administrators that have a passion for students. Some of my Board members did not agree with my principal assignments. Based on my beliefs, my vision for MOCO and our Board’s vision are different. I was given the choice of changing the list of administrators or termination of my duties. After much prayer, I could not go against my beliefs. I have enjoyed my tenure at MOCO! Students have always been my top priority! We have accomplished great improvements due to great teachers, parents, community members and school leaders. May God bless our students. I know God has a plan for me—I will wait on Him!” Following the Board’s vote on March 18, a number of citizens began to take steps on Kight’s behalf. Montgomery County resident Gail McDaniel, who has two granddaughters in the school system, started a petition aimed at getting the board to reconsider Kight’s termination. “We appreciate what he has done for the school system. We want him back,” she said. As of Monday, McDaniel had collected a total of 300 signatures, but a posting on social media has kept the signatures coming. McDaniel noted that several citizens in the community are gathering signatures and these were to be combined into a petition and presented to the Board during a called meeting Tuesday (March 23) night. McDaniel said she understood that five citizens would be allowed to speak during the meeting on Tuesday, which was to be held in the Board Room at the School Board Office. “We will keep collecting signatures until Tuesday afternoon before the Board meeting,” she said. The issue over the superintendent gained momentum when the Board met for its regular session on Monday, March 15. At this session, Poole, Gay and Ward voted against approving the school’s administrative staff. Price and Beard voted to approve the recommendations. On March 17 a public notice was issued announcing that a called meeting was scheduled for the day following the regular Board meeting. Agenda items included an executive session regarding personnel and a consultation with the board attorney. Following the executive session, the Board undertook action items and general administration, which included salary schedules for 2022 and administrative staff. These issues, which brought about the Board action involving Kight, were handled in an open meeting. Parents who had gotten wind of the issues that were expected to emerge in the called session showed up to voice their support for Kight. Among them was Hannah Autry, who has three children enrolled in the Montgomery County School System.

Autry explained the public is not usually allowed to speak at called sessions, but Chairman Poole overrode this rule and granted permission for the citizens in attendance to voice their opinions following the vote to fire Kight. Autry said that after the Board “voted to keep certain people and to fire Kight, we asked them why they were doing this to the school system.” She added, “Dr. Poole said it was affecting him more than us. I said, ‘No sir, it’s not. You don’t have children in this school system.” Autry said none of the Board members offered an explanation for their action. “They would not give us a reason. They kept saying they could not comment. We are grateful for Mr. Price and Ms. Beard because they voted for what was right for these students and the system and the county. Mr. Kight has done so much for our school system. It’s a shame; it’s small town politics.”

Autry added, “I am very upset. Mr. Kight has been a great asset to our school system, and it is not right the way he has been made to leave. I really feel like our school system is going to go down if he is not here to keep it afloat. We have a brand new school here at no cost to taxpayers and that was all his hard work. We have a new track field that is also because of his hard work. Our students have come so far because of him.”

Another parent, Stacie Randolph, has one child in elementary school and one in high school in Montgomery County. She said she and other parents have reached out to Board members, but because the issue is a personnel matter that was handled in an executive session, a protected area under the law, the Board could not offer any information.

Parent Carrie Barber also voiced her dismay. “I am very upset because my child was in another system and we moved here because of Mr. Kight.”

On Friday, Autry, Randolph and Barber were among the parents and other citizens who joined students staging a protest on the sidewalk in front of the Board offices. A staff member said Friday that Kight briefly visited the Board office and, true to form, appealed to the students to go back to class because they were missing instruction.

Middle and high school students walked out of class Friday morning “to stand up for what’s right,” according to one of them. Included in the student protest was an 11th grader who praised Kight as “such an amazing person. I can’t think of anyone better to be our Superintendent, seeing how he works with community.” The junior, who is active in all types of sports, came to Montgomery County from Toombs County and grew to love the school and Kight. “Mr. Kight was everywhere on campus,” she said of the Superintendent’s involvement in academics and sports.

Another 11th grader said, “It’s a big heart breaker for me because Mr. Kight has been really involved with our school, given us so many opportunities and made our school a lot better academically and sports wise. I have lived here my whole life and this school was a mess before he came.” She noted that the Superintendent was a familiar face on campus, coming to the high school several times a week and always giving off good vibes. “He’s a good person. We need to fight for him so he can stay,” she avowed.

Another student, who graduates this year, agreed with her fellow classmates’ appraisal of Kight. “He has done so much to improve the school system. Most of us don’t enjoy school lunches, but Mr. Kight would come and eat with us. He cares about us, knows our names.”

One Montgomery Countian, who wished to remain anonymous, said Kight was well known for quietly doing things for other people and taking on tasks to help out. “He came in at 5 a.m. to drive a morning bus route for an entire week when one of the drivers was out with COVID. He also made sure one special needs high school student found an outfit to wear to the school prom. She was so proud.” And when a group of high school students came to him asking for a soccer program, he took on the duties of putting the team together and coaching for a while, even though he did not have a background in the sport.

A native of Cedar Grove, Kight taught for the Laurens County schools before retiring and coming to Montgomery County in 2015. During his tenure, the school system made great strides. A new $15 million middle/high school opened in 2019 and was paid for in full by a Low Wealth Grant and reserve funds with no additional costs to taxpayers. The school’s sports complex was renovated, also without dipping into school coffers. The school’s track underwent a major overhaul and was recently reopened and dedicated ahead of hosting regional competition. Another innovation was the installation of a stateof- the-art security system that provides real time information on the entire campus.

For Kight, one of the most exciting developments was Eagle Academy, the first program of its kind in the area. The customized program, funded through FTE allocations, is designed to challenge high achievers in grades K-8 and is being launched in the Montgomery County Schools next year.

Other innovations begun under Kight’s administration include the Eagle Express Mobile Classroom, a project that targets pre-school children and their parents from underprivileged backgrounds; Eagle Acres agriculture program; and the PLUS Program, which offers postsecondary options for students, including life skills, motivational strategies ready for use in the real world.

During Kight’s administration, College and Career Ready Performance Index scores, a performance platform for all Georgia Schools, improved across the district, and the high school graduation rate reached new heights—from 82.759% in 2016 to 94.6% in 2019.

The superintendent is the recipient of the John Roller Distinction Award that goes to a person who shows outstanding leadership, integrity and strength in the community. He is also the 2019 recipient of the Georgia School Board Association’s Inaugural Leading Edge Award.

FIGHT FOR KIGHT—Hugh Kight has served as Superintendent at Montgomery County Schools for five and half years and is a popular figure on campus. Students who gathered in front of the Board of Education office in Mount Vernon last Friday to make their opinions known were joined by scores of parents and other citizens. Petitions calling for a reversal of the Board’s decision are circulating in the community and were to be presented in a called meeting Tuesday, March 23.Photo by Deborah Clark

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