Dr. Mary Felton, assistant superintendent of the Bulloch County schools since January 2014, was not offered a renewed contract for 2017-18 and resigned this week, effective June 30. Meanwhile, Felton had a job lined up as an assistant principal at Claxton Elementary School in Evans County.
In fact, the Evans County Board of Education confirmed her in that role with a vote Monday night.
“I think she will be an excellent fit,” Dr. Marty Waters, Evans County school superintendent, said Thursday. “She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly for helping us to focus on literacy and strengthen our instructional process for all of our students at the elementary school.”
Felton was offered a contract beginning July 1 and will be one of three assistant principals at Claxton Elementary, which has about 1,100 students. Before she came to Bulloch County, Felton was assistant principal of an elementary school in Conyers, and before that was the Rockdale County Public Schools' district literacy coach.
With an email Wednesday morning, May 10, Felton sent a resignation letter to Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, copied to the eight Bulloch County Board of Education members.
“Bulloch County Schools have gone through many changes in the past few years, facing many of the challenges seen in larger, urban districts,” Felton wrote. “My staff has made great strides in meeting those challenges since I was appointed Assistant Superintendent. I am proud of their commitment, dedication and accomplishments under my leadership.”
She thanked the board for having been able to serve as assistant superintendent for more than three years. But in the brief email to which the letter was attached, she noted how she had been informed by Human Resources Director Phillip Tremble that her contract was not being renewed.
“I was greeted by Mr. Phillip Tremble this morning informing me that I would be non-renewed or I can resign. Attached is an electronic copy of my letter of resignation effective June 30, 2017,” she wrote.
Timing of actions
“We did notify Dr. Felton that her contract would be non-renewed for next year but offered her the courtesy of allowing her to resign if she preferred,” Wilson stated in an email clarifying answers to questions from the Statesboro Herald.
“It was subsequent to our notification to her about non-renewal that we were informed she had another position already approved in Evans County. We had not been notified prior to our action,” Wilson stated.
He declined to comment on any reason for the non-renewal. Like most administrators in the school system, Felton had a one-year contract. May 15, this Monday, is the deadline under state law for these administrators to be informed if their contracts will not be renewed.
The Evans County school system had advertised the assistant principal job for two weeks, beginning March 27. Of 36 applicants, six were interviewed by a committee, which selected Felton.
“I will simply say this, that the wheels were in motion here before any of that mess happened over there,” Waters, previously a Bulloch County principal, said when phoned Thursday.
Felton, the Bulloch school system’s top-ranking African-American administrator, is being let go while the Board of Education continues to debate proposals to recruit and retain minority administrators and teachers. Wilson and the board returned to that topic Thursday night.
A set of research-based effectiveness standards applied this year to hiring principals, coupled with a screening process blind to factors such as a race, has produced positive results in diversity, Wilson said.
“As a result of that process, of the three principals that have been hired, one has been white, one has been black and one has been Hispanic,” he said.
As Wilson reported last fall, the number of black teachers and administrators increased from 11 percent of the Bulloch County school system’s total workforce with teaching certificates in 2012-13 to 14.2 percent this school year. But 37 percent of the students are black, and almost 49 percent are identified in Georgia Department of Education reports by ethnicities other than “white,” including multiracial and Hispanic students.
Wilson presented a recommendation in February for a minority educator recruitment program, gleaned from the Minority Recruitment Committee’s suggestions. But the plan carried cost estimates of $180,000 or more, and the board postponed a decision.
Thursday, District 5 board member Glennera Martin made a motion to hire a consultant to work with the board on minority hiring, recruiting, retaining and reclaiming plans. “Reclaiming” refers to efforts to make sure employees return after events such as maternity leave.
District 8 member Maurice Hill seconded the motion.
But District 4 member Steve Hein moved to table Martin’s motion, halting discussion.
“I want to know where we’re at before we allocate any money, and I think we’re a little bit ahead of ourselves,” Hein said.
District 3 member Dr. Stuart Tedders seconded the motion to table, and this passed 6-2, with the white members voting for the motion to table and Hill and Martin, who are African-American, voting against it.
One citizen, Reginald Mosley, speaking during the public participation part of the meeting, mentioned Felton before board Chair Cheri Wagner told him he was breaking the rule against talking about individual personnel matters.
After saying that the school system leadership “seemed to have improved some in the past” in hiring practices, Mosley said he was apologizing to Felton and the district’s students “in that they have a highly qualified young lady … and because of the manner in which this school board operates she has been maligned and not properly utilized.”
Mosley began his remarks with a prayer and also voiced allegations against unnamed school system employees.
After a closed-door session on personnel, the board voted on a series of grouped recommendations. The list of resignations, retirements and hires, which included Felton’s resignation with the reason “job opportunity,” was approved 8-0, as were teacher contracts. But on the administrator contact renewals, which included other central office officials but not Felton, the vote was 7-1, with Hill opposing.
Felton, who attended Thursday’s meeting, confirmed that she is taking the Claxton job but declined further comment.
Vacancy to fill?
Felton is Bulloch’s only assistant superintendent. Other assistant superintendent positions have been eliminated over the years in favor of “chief officer” and “executive director” titles. Felton’s original title was assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. More recently, her division is the Office of Student Support.
“Regarding her position, we will be evaluating how to best meet the needs of our schools before we make any decisions,” Wilson answered Friday. “As you know, we have used a regular restructuring of positions as needed to ensure our district office stays streamlined and aligned with the needs of our schools.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.