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Ouster bid fails

By Staff | May 8, 2019

After all was said and done at Tuesday’s lengthy and often contentious School Board meeting, Dr. Gregory Adkins remained the School District of Lee County superintendent.

Following much public input and board discussion, a motion was made to terminate Adkins without cause by Board Member Melisa Giovannelli, an action she said would be forthcoming prior to the meeting.

The motion to terminate Adkins failed, with three board members voting for ouster and four against.

Adkins said he has appreciated the kind words from peers and residents surrounding this controversy.

“I am overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support from the community I’ve received,” said Adkins.

The meeting, which lasted 4-1/2 hours, was well attended by the public, most of whom came to either defend, or criticize Adkins’ work and character.

Public comments ranged from the good, to the bad, to the ugly.

Some positive remarks included, “It’s ridiculous, naive and shortsighted to fire Adkins,” and “He’s the best superintendent to come down the line yet.”

Some negative statements included, “It’s time to resign, Dr. Adkins,” and “He’s rejected the cries of students.”

Feelings from last week’s School Board Workshop, where members were supposed to help Adkins identify shortcomings, boiled over into Tuesday’s meeting as the group struggled to communicate cohesively before the motion to terminate was made.

“I have lost all confidence in the superintendent,” said Giovannelli.

Despite their differences, School Board Chair Gwynetta Gittens said that without a doubt, everyone on the board does have the children’s best interests at heart.

“The board is divided, the district is divided, but we can’t be divided for the children,” said Gittens.

Gittens made a motion before Giovannelli’s, earlier in the meeting, to give Adkins a 45-day “grace period” of sorts during which time he and the board could better communicate and further discuss their “action plan” for the superintendent.

That motion was shut down, one reason being that Adkins made it clear that he wanted the discussions involving his employment to end that night.

“I am not willing to have this process drag out any further,” he said. “This community deserves the governing board to move on.”

Adkins sat on the dais while he listened to nearly 30 residents either tout his achievements or lambaste his efforts. He did have an opportunity of rebuttal during the board comments portion of the meeting.

“Some have painted a picture of the district that is untrue,” Adkins said. “The concerns raised are unfounded and by people who have found to be untruthful.”

Each School Board member gave an opinion as to why they thought Adkins should either stay, or go. This conflict stems from the recent evaluations of Adkins the board completed in late April.

The seven-member board’s evaluations ranged from “highly effective,” to “unsatisfactory.”

Vice Chair Chris Patricca gave Adkins the highest marks of the group, while Giovannelli gave the superintendent the lowest.

“I do not have confidence in his performance for many reason,” said Gittens. She cited a lack of leadership and communication skills, along with unprofessionalism, in her opinion, of why she believes it’s time for a change.

Others board members had divergent views.

“I am stunned we are having a conversation about the termination of Dr. Adkins,” said Patricca.

“We have not yet as a board sat with Dr. Adkins and given him direction,” said Mary Fischer. “We need to get it together and take this opportunity for improvement. We need metrics and a timeline or we won’t accomplish the work of the district.”

“There are deep issues in this school district,” saidBetsy Vaughn, who was in support of Adkin’s termination. “I don’t want another 45 days. I want action now. We have waited too long.”

“We were supposed to come up with a clear and concise goal for Adkins; that hasn’t taken place,” said Debbie Jordan, who would not support the termination of Adkins.

Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan could not understand how the school district could be achieving the historic academic numbers they have under Akins’ watch with all of the concerns expressed by some of her fellow board members and the community.

“How are we so successful in this ‘negative climate?'” she asked.

Giovannelli said that she is not impressed with the leadership style of Adkins, which she stated is one of fear and intimidation.

“The past School Board suffered from willful ignorance,” she said.

She touted her life-long involvement with the School District of Lee County and questioned whether other members of the board were working for the taxpayers or for Adkins.

She read a laundry list of details describing what she believed to be Adkins’ missteps or weaknesses, including the handling of audits, high turnover of senior staff, the construction of Bonita High School and allegations of racist tones throughout the district.

She said she has witnessed outbursts of anger from Adkins and called him “chauvinistic.”

“We can’t move forward under these circumstances,” Giovannelli said.

Vaughn, Gittens and Giovannelli voted to oust Adkins as superintendent, with Gittens struggling in her vote, as she wished to continue discussions with Adkins, despite her viewpoint, before making such a permanent decision.

In an emotional and impassioned speech, Gittens declared she was tired of hearing that she wishes to rip the district apart, being told to “stay in her lane” and “keep out of the weeds.”

“I’m going to pull weeds if that’s what it takes to get answers,” she said.

Adkins, who has been superintendent since 2015, did state he was willing to work together with the board to move foreword with the work of the district.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj