Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
Since June, District 200 Superintendent Greg Johnson has received full support from the school board, building out a new administrative team through a series of promotions and recruitment efforts. But at a school board meeting this week Johnson was unable to convince board members to bring back a familiar face – his predecessor, Joylynn Pruitt-Adams as a paid consultant.
In a 3-2 vote, the board decided against hiring Pruitt-Adams as a consultant to Johnson and other administrators. Board secretary Ralph Martire and member Gina Harris were absent from the meeting.
Prior to becoming the superintendent this summer, Johnson served as the school’s assistant superintendent working under Pruitt- Adams, whose run with the district ended this June with her decision to retire.
The consulting contract sought to continue the connection, with Pruitt-Adams offering Johnson support in his new role. Pruitt-Adams would provide feedback on existing and new projects and guidance on “navigating politically-charged community issues.” The latter is a task that administrators may come across, and it’s one that Pruitt-Adams has dealt with during her time at District 200, Johnson told Wednesday Journal in a phone call after the meeting.
The contract also called for Pruitt-Adams to work with Assistant Superintendent and Principal Lynda Parker and Assistant Superintendent for Learning Laurie Fiorenza. Under those tasks, Pruitt-Adams would step in and assist them in building more relationships with students and staff, as well as expanding their roles to include a more “district-wide focus.”
“Over the past several years, Dr. Pruitt-Adams had served as a mentor to all three of us,” said Johnson, noting their new positions were ones “we never had before.” Parker had previously served as the school’s director of student services, while Fiorenza was the director of student learning.
“This was really just a way to utilize her services in a formal way [in the] next school year, as we progress into these new roles,” Johnson said. “On the flip side, too, I understand any time you’re talking about allocating fiscal resources in a school district, this is something that a board has to weigh and consider very carefully. I also know that Dr. Pruitt-Adams is a person of incredible character, and she will certainly be still available for us when we need her because of [our] friendship and caring for each other.”
After 40 years in education – five of which were spent at District 200 – Pruitt-Adams announced her retirement last November. State law requires that retired educators are only allowed to work a certain number of hours each school year in order to qualify for pension payments.
As a consultant, the contract indicated Pruitt-Adams could work up to eight hours a week – a total of 288 hours during the 2021-22 school year. Had her contract been approved, she would have been paid at a rate of $175 an hour for her services.
Board member Fred Arkin, one of three members who cast a dissenting vote, spoke on why he did not see the need to rehire Pruitt-Adams. Arkin said he believed Johnson has already put together a solid team, stacked with “highly competent” educators and professionals.
“I understand the need for mentoring, and my vote has nothing to do with Dr. Pruitt-Adams,” he said. “I think that the things that she brought forth and she did for this district are just amazing, but I think we have to move on from the Dr. Pruitt-Adams [era] to the Greg Johnson era.”
Arkin also voiced concerns on the money Pruitt-Adams would have earned.
“In fairness to our taxpayers, we really have to look at this. I know it’s a ‘not-to-exceed’ contract, but it could end up being a pretty hefty sum of money, a full teacher’s salary,” he said. “That’s what makes me concerned.”
The other two “no” votes came from board vice president Tom Cofsky and member Kebreab Henry.
In an email to Wednesday Journal, Cofsky explained why he turned down the contract. Echoing some of Arkin’s sentiments, Cofsky wrote that he believed the new administrators are qualified, and that “we need to let them lead the district and do their work.”
“While appreciative of the work of Dr. Pruitt-Adams, I think she has earned her retirement and can successfully leave the district in the hands of those she brought in,” Cofsky wrote.
Board president Sara Dixon Spivy and member Mary Anne Mohanraj were the two members who cast a “yes” vote.
While Spivy respected her colleagues’ opinions and the board’s final decision, she shared her thoughts on the contract, along with her “yes” vote, in an email to Wednesday Journal.
“Professional development and mentorship are proven to increase retention and recruitment of staff of color, which has historically been a struggle for the district,” Spivy said in an email. “Dr. Pruitt-Adams was unparalleled in providing mentorship to her administrators, especially women of color.”
Among nearly a dozen newly hired or promoted staff, a majority of them are Black men and women, including Parker and Fiorenza. Based on Pruitt-Adams’ contract, she would be available to Parker and Fiorenza, as well as Johnson, on an as-needed basis.
“We have many newly hired or promoted administrators and their success, and our students, are aligned,” Spivy wrote. “I want them to have every opportunity to thrive in our district but to ensure that we must also recognize the challenges unique to women and people of color in high-pressure leadership roles.”
CORRECTION: A previous story misspelled the name of board vice president Tom Cofsky. Wednesday Journal regrets this error.