HomeEducationSchool Board fires Superintendent Karen Clarke, hires Dr. Carlee Simon as Interim
School Board fires Superintendent Karen Clarke, hires Dr. Carlee Simon as Interim
December 10, 2020
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Clarke fired at November 30 meeting
The School Board held a special meeting on November 30 to consider the desire of newly-elected School Board members to make a change in the leadership of the school district. Karen Clarke, the Superintendent of Schools, had resigned on November 10, with a proposed effective date of June 2021. At the very beginning of the meeting, new member Diyonne McGraw said, “I move that instead of having a prolonged period before the effective date of the Superintendent’s resignation, that we accept her resignation, thanking her for her service and making an effective December 1st and pay her severance package outlined in her contract of 20 weeks of basic annual salary, together with the payment of accrued leave, and surrender all property belonging to the district.”
Board Members Rob Hyatt and Gunnar Paulson strongly defended Clarke, saying that the district’s performance had improved under her leadership; she had created the Digital Academy, which was copied by other school districts; and with a requirement to submit a plan for next semester to the state within 10 days, her experience was needed. Paulson also pointed out that it didn’t make sense to pay someone else at the same time they’re paying Clarke’s severance.
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Board Member Tina Certain said she considered Clarke’s resignation to be final as soon as she heard about it. Board Chair Leanetta McNealy thanked Clarke for her service but said she was confused about why Clarke wanted to stay until June after making the decision to resign.
The motion passed 3-2 with Hyatt and Gunnarson in dissent.
Simon hired at December 4 meeting
The School Board held a second meeting on December 4 to hire an interim superintendent and selected Dr. Carlee Simon from a slate of seven candidates.
“She has a clear vision for the district,” said School Board chair Dr. Leanetta McNealy. “Her expertise will help guide us through many challenges of budgeting and financial constraints, and she has a history of being a strong collaborator, which will be a plus in welcoming interactions with the community.”
Dr. Simon says she will be listening to the ideas and concerns of teachers, staff, families, and the community at large.
“We need their voices,” said Dr. Simon. “The district doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and if we are going to make progress in addressing some of our most stubbornly persistent problems, such as our unacceptably wide racial opportunity gaps, we need to meaningfully engage the community and other stakeholders.”
Dr. Simon currently serves as a faculty member at the University of North Florida, where she has developed and delivered online graduate courses in School Finance and Early Childhood Leadership Policy and Law for school principals, district administrators, and other working professionals. Her career includes eight years as Executive Director/Director of the National Education Finance Academy, a professional organization, and in a leadership capacity with the American Education Finance Association. She also has ten years of instructional and curriculum experience in the K-12 setting, having served as both a math teacher and a subject matter expert in Florida schools, including P.K Yonge Developmental Research School and the Florida Virtual School.
Dr. Simon’s scholarly work on a wide variety of educational issues ranging from school design to teacher evaluations to school funding has been published in numerous professional journals, and she’s been a featured presenter at many state, national and international conferences.
Dr. Simon currently holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy from the University of Florida and is completing a second Ph.D. at UF in Design, Construction and Urban Planning, with a focus on addressing educational equity. She’s also earned state certification in Educational Leadership, Engineering and Technology Education, and Mathematics.
Dr. Simon’s achievements have earned her a number of awards and honors from state and national organizations, including the University Council for Educational Administration, the National Education Finance Academy, the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association, and the University of Florida.
Dr. Simon says her expertise in a wide range of educational issues, including educational finance, distance learning, and fostering an inclusive approach to educational leadership, are well-suited to the district’s needs.
“I believe my exposure to different approaches to solving problems similar to those we face here in Alachua County will serve me well as Interim Superintendent,” said Dr. Simon. “For example, my background in education finance will be crucial as we deal with the financial impact of COVID.”
Dr. Simon has been a passionate advocate for students and staff in the district. She currently serves on the Education Task Force and was chair of the renaming committee for Carolyn Parker Elementary School. She herself is a graduate of Alachua County Public Schools (Eastside High School), and her children attend schools within the district.
“As both a parent and educator, my immediate concern is to provide a safe and healthy educational environment for all students and staff while balancing the need for effective instruction,” said Dr. Simon. “I also plan to do everything in my power to help the School Board members carry out their vision for our district.”
A contract between Dr. Simon and the district is currently being negotiated. The Board will vote on that contract during its regular business meeting on December 15, with Dr. Simon expected to officially begin her duties on December 16.