Will another change agent bite the dust?

We have a tendency in this town to crucify change agents.

We’ve seen two successive city managers come to grief for trying to make Gainesville government more agile and responsive.

So it’s no surprise to learn that school Superintendent Carlee Simon is likely to be fired.

If anything the school district is even more insular and change-resistant than city government. And school board members tend to come from within the ranks of former teachers and principals and are, thus, quite comfortable with the district status quo.

Simon’s apparent sin is that she eliminated a handful of administrative positions. To judge by the comments of her detractors, this has made virtually everybody who works for the district feel uncomfortable.

But let’s remember why Simon got the job in the first place.

She was hired by the last popularly-elected board majority, which consisted of three Black women. Race is relevant here because they wanted to do something about the shameful fact that Alachua County – this renown university community where learning is the coin of the realm – has the worst White/Black student achievement gap in Florida.

Now that’s something we all ought to feel uncomfortable about.

So how’s Simon been doing at “minding the gap”? It’s hard to say right now.

Covid pretty much threw everything into crisis management mode. Not to mention that the district opted to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “freedom to infect” policies.

But it’s not Covid that got Simon into hot water.

First, one of the three Black women board members, Diyonne McGraw, got booted on what amounts to a technicality. The booter was non other than DeSantis, who replaced McGraw with Mildred Russell.

And all of a sudden the new majority consisted of two White men – both of whom had careers in the district – and a Republican who is essentially Gov. DeSantis’ proxy on the board.

You have to appreciate the irony of Rob Hyatt, a died-in-the-blue Democrat, and Gunnar Paulson, a former teacher union president, joining forces with Russell to fire Superintendent Simon.

After all, Russell’s party wants to gag teachers from talking about race and gender and sanitize school libraries of “objectionable” books. Talk about making educators feel uncomfortable.

The acrimony between Paulson and Simon is well known. She won’t even meet with him without having a witness present. So, yes, it’s personal.

Hyatt’s motives are less clear, but it’s no secret that he has clashed with McGraw, Tina Certain and Leanetta McNealy, the three Black women who hired Simon.

It was a breathtaking act of spite when Paulson, Hyatt and Russell joined forces to deny Certain her turn as board chair. They certainly put Certain in her place.

This is not to imply that there is an element of racism in all of this. But there are two types of racism – personal and institutional. And the latter is by far the most enduring and damaging.

Simon garnered quite a bit of national media attention for insisting that students mask up in defiance of DeSantis’ orders. From Russell’s perspective, Simon’s head will make a wonderful addition to DeSantis’ trophy case.

But Paulson and Hyatt seem intent on protecting the district from a superintendent who was specifically hired to change its culture.

If the district’s inability to close the student achievement gap is not a vestige of institutional racism, then what is? Exactly whose interests are being served in firing Simon?

Certainly not the interests of Alachua County African-Americans.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at ron@freegnv.com

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