Dr. Mark Davidson Appointed Interim
Superintendent for Montgomery Schools
In an emotionallycharged and heavilyattended called meeting last week, the Montgomery County Board of Education announced its choice for an interim school superi ntendent.
The decision followed several days of community tension during which some members of the Board were criticized for a 3-2 vote to terminate popular Superintendent Hugh Kight.
Dr. Mark Davidson, a retired educator who has been teaching part-time at Montgomery County Schools for the past four years and who formerly served as Superintendent of Wheeler County Schools, was named to succeed Kight. The Board voted unanimously to place Davidson in the interim position until a permanent successor can be appointed.
Kight’s termination took place in a called meeting held March 18 at the Board offices. During the session Dr. Jim Paul Poole, Board Chairman, and members Debra Gay and Eugene “Pete” Ward continued from page
voted to fire Kight while Board members Henry Price, Board Vice Chair, and Susan Beard did not support the termination.
Prohibited from discussing personnel issues handled in an executive session, the Board has not made public its reasons for Kight’s termination; however, Kight released a comment on the matter on March 19.
“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.”
Following the announcement of Davidson’s appointment, Chairman Poole asked the interim superintendent to stand as he welcomed him into his new position. Poole said, “Some people say this is a challenge and a crisis. You’ve got a big job ahead of you. Do you feel you can accept this responsibility and move this school system forward?”
Davidson responded, “I do, with everybody’s support. The community is sad but we have to move on and do what’s right for the kids. It is something I prayed about.” Davidson said he had a statement prepared, but noted “sometimes you don’t read, you just let your heart speak.” He offered, “We need to bring folks together. Hugh Kight and I are good friends, and I firmly believe he would say this is not about him, not about the Board, not about me. This is about the kids.”
Davidson added, “This school system has done some excellent things over the years because of the community, the staff hired, the outpouring of support whether it’s a ball game or an academic event. This system has made gains and everybody has had a part in it. There is no reason we can’t continue.” He acknowledged, “Things are different now, but I want to do what’s best for these kids. We all have to encourage them-every member of our staff from bus drivers to lunch room ladies to custodians, that’s the support group that keeps things going and makes us look good. Our teachers are working hard. It is time for us unify and finish strong.”
Noting that his oldest son is a graduate of Montgomery High School (MCHS), his wife teaches for the system and he has a son who is a student in the 11th grade at MCHS, Davidson said he and his family are invested in the system. He urged healing and unity in the community for the sake of the school system and its students. “We may disagree sometimes, but the bottom line is that we come together and keep doing great things. I believe we have folks in this system that can do the job. There are already things put in place. If we continue what we are doing, we will be fine. But here’s the deal, we have got to be together. That’s from my heart.”
Davidson said that although he did not seek the position he assumed on March 22, he was “humbled and honored by the opportunity.” He drew applause from the crowd as he ended his comments, “Mr. Kight will be fine. He would say, ‘You’ve got to carry on.’ Please pray for me and my family and the system.”
Early in the meeting, Board Attorney Daniel O’Connor provided Board members with a copy of the agreement negotiated with Kight and his attorney regarding his termination. O’Connor said the agreement provided for Kight’s severance under the employment contracts he signed previously. He pointed out that Kight released the school from any further liability and any additional notice he would otherwise have been entitled to in order to be terminated. Both Kight and his attorney approved this agreement. In a 3-2 vote the Board approved the agreement. Beard and Price voted against the measure.
Concerned citizens crowded into the small Board meeting room and into the hall beyond for the March 22 meeting. Called sessions do not normally accommodate public participation, but Dr. Poole amended the meeting format to allow comments from the public. Prior to the comments, O’Connor informed the attendees about the purpose and protocol of the session. The comments preceded an executive session and the subsequent announcement of the Board’s decision for the interim position.
Five persons signed up to offer their opinions on the Board’s decision to terminate Kight. Some of those speaking emphasized that they were there to make known their support of the school system and the students. Among those speaking was local resident Stephanie Randolph.
“The goal of this group being here tonight is to bring to light issues that citizens of this county feel were handled incorrectly by this Board,” Randolph said. “We realize this Board has burned bridges that cannot be repaired at this time and that we will have to move forward using the tools we have now; however, we feel it is important to make a public statement to the Board about their actions and let them know we are disappointed and we plan to show that at the polls if not before.” Randolph noted, “There are issues we want on record and we want the Board to address. We feel we are owed a legitimate explanation for the firing of Superintendent Hugh Kight. We do not feel the blanket statement that there were communication problems is that legitimate answer. We have also been led to believe that there were additional issues which would help us to understand.” She added, “If Mr. Kight chose to be fired rather than compromise his beliefs that a specific person should not be placed in a position, we feel we are owed some specific assurances from this Board as to why they believe that person is not right for the job.” Randoph said she and the group she represented wanted it noted that several Board members, but most specifically Debra Gay, have been on record numerous times commending Kight for his work and his vision. She pointed out, “We would like it noted that Mr. Hugh Kight’s contract was due to expire in June, 2021, and that this Board unanimously voted in December to extend it until 2023. Along with the extension he received a satisfactory evaluation.” She said that she and the 470 citizens who signed a petition supporting Kight want it noted that the School system will have to pay $85,000 plus the remainder of Kight’s March salary to buy out his contract due to the Board’s firing him without cause.
Randolph pointed out, “We would like it noted that Mr. Kight worked diligently through his time here to provide resources and facilities that are not only state-of-the art but also paid for in full through grants, fundraisers and Mr. Kight’s unique sense of cheapness that continually saved our school system money. We would like it noted that Mr. Kight served here with a 49% salary (as a retired state employee) but served in a full-time capacity.”
Randolph said citizens believe the Board committed several ethics violations because of its actions.
“We want to say for public record that Dr. Jim Paul Poole’s actions in this situation have been unethical, specifically his having the Board attorney draft a resignation letter for Mr. Kight without the consent of the whole School Board; and his making a financial offer to Mr. Kight without the consent of the whole Board.” Randolph continued a list of presumed violations which included, “The action of Dr. Poole, along with Pete Ward and Debra Gay of putting Mr. Kight in the position of changing his recommendation of personnel, which is not the Board’s job according to state law, or being fired.” She also cited the action of Dr. Poole in discussing and deciding on a selection for an interim superintendent with only part of the Board, outside of a work session or Board meeting.
“We feel these most recent actions by Dr. Poole, which lost us our superintendent, added to years of Dr. Poole being at the center of controversy and chaos on our board, are reasons for him to be removed from the board. We are seeking every avenue to take this action.” In closing she said, “We feel betrayed by the actions of this Board. We feel like you have violated the Code of Ethics which you all sign, swear and consent to every year. We feel you owe the community an apology for your actions and that you need to redirect your actions as a Board to reflect the community that you are serving.”