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Superintendent resigns: What’s next for Lee Schools?

By Staff | Sep 11, 2015

With Lee County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham’s resignation Tuesday, the school system has a number of questions moving forward.

And they consist of much more than who will replace her, according to one member of the school board, who said that person will have a lot of work to do.

Steven Teuber, District 4 school board member and vice chairman, said the resignation was a shock to him, having spoken to her frequently in the time before her stepping down.

“She gave no inclination, no discussion about any kind of departure. That was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Teuber, who has been recovering from surgery. “I got a phone call Tuesday after my surgery that she tendered her resignation. No phone call, no e-mail, no text, just out of the blue.”

Pamela H. LaRiviere, District 5 school board member, said she was saddened to see Graham leave, even if there were strengths and weaknesses.

“Each of us on the board is looking for different leadership skills. I saw excellent leadership skills in guiding us as far as instructional, while there may have been areas where they weren’t as fined tuned,” LaRiviere said. “That didn’t bother me because I knew we were moving forward.”

Teuber said the resignation continues the trend of superintendents coming and going quickly in Lee County. Graham’s two-year reign seems lengthy by comparison.

“There seems to be a common trend when news surfaces about misconduct that people are jumping off the ship and give a reason for leaving when the dots don’t seem to connect,” Teuber said.

By way of comparison, in his first stint on the school board from 2002-10, Teuber had one superintendent, James Browder, for nearly his entire time in office.

Graham, who has been superintendent since June 2013 when Joseph Burke retired, submitted a letter of resignation to the school board Tuesday afternoon, citing her intent to retire.

Her last day of work is Dec. 21, unless the school board asks her to leave before then. Teuber said she could be gone as early as their workshop meeting on Tuesday, saying the system needs to find an interim replacement urgently instead of staying with a lame-duck superintendent.

“I thought a soon as she resigned they should have put in a replacement superintendent and followed protocol. Why they didn’t do that I don’t know,” Teuber said.

LaRiviere believes Graham should stay on so they can find an interim person, hear from their constituents on who they want, and have an easier transition once that person is hired.

“My vision is to put a process in place. I would like an interim to come in from outside Lee County because we need to keep our strong people where they are,” LaRiviere said. “There are several retired superintendents who have been excellent in moving districts forward during transition times.”

LaRiviere said under her plan a new superintendent would likely not be in place until after the school year.

Board determination on how to proceed will begin Tuesday.

The board will meet 1:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. with another meeting to follow on Friday, said board member Mary Fischer.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board will begin to outline goals, develop a timeline and determine a successor process, which will involve the community as did the last search, she said.

“I’m disappointed that her resignation comes but I certainly understand that people have to do what is best for them and their health and their family,” Fischer said.

Any new superintendent will be faced with challenges right out of the chute, academic and otherwise.

“We still haven’t found a location for LIL or the funding mechanism. We don’t have an academic plan. We need something to run this operation,” Teuber said.

Teuber said since 2010 things have gone downhill in regards to student performance to below the state average in most categories and below neighboring counties in Collier and Charlotte.

Graham faced criticism in her handling of an investigation into an alleged cheating scandal at Dunbar Community School as well as a bullying incident at Lexington Middle School.