In its effort to hire Mark Taylor as superintendent, the Spotsylvania School Board took the unusual step of engaging state Department of Education officials in the process.
Virginia Department of Education leadership, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, communicated with members of the Spotsylvania School Board throughout the hiring process. Such involvement is rare, according to a recent former secretary of education, three former Spotsylvania school board members and the director of the Virginia Association of School Boards.
Former school system superintendent Scott Baker was fired without cause during a closed session at a January 10 school board meeting.
Taylor will begin his appointment as superintendent on November 1. With an annual base salary of $245,000, he will be the second highest paid school division head in the greater Fredericksburg area. Although Taylor has held administrative positions in government, he has no previous leadership experience in education.
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The board’s 4–3 decision to hire Taylor, who served as Spotsylvania County Trustee from 2015 to 2019 before taking the same position in Greene County, has caused divisiveness within the school board and among residents . In recent months, parents have expressed concerns about the selection process, Taylor’s lack of education experience and his personal connection to the school board president.
Critics of Taylor’s selection also pointed to controversial social media posts posted on a profile that appeared to belong to Taylor. Members of the Virginia Board of Education referenced these positions, which one member described as racially and socially insensitive, when discussing whether Taylor would earn a superintendent’s license.
The board ultimately voted 6-2 in favor of licensure, although several of those who voted to grant Taylor licensure agreed that the positions, if legitimate, would have disqualified him from a position. of management if they had made the hire.
Taylor suggested during an interview with ABC7 last month that the social media posts were the result of her profile being hacked.
Last week, two county residents, Jeffrey Glazer and Christina Ramos, filed a petition with Spotsylvania Circuit Court seeking “a temporary and permanent injunction against the hiring of Mark Taylor.” The petitioners seek judicial review of the school board’s decision.
Emails obtained by The Free Lance-Star from the state Department of Education through Freedom of Information Act requests show that a senior adviser to Balow and Superintendent Elizabeth Schultz Assistant of Public Instruction, were the first points of contact for school board members. That councilor, Jon Russell, is now the director of executive communications for Spotsylvania School Division.
Atif Qarni, former Virginia education secretary, said he is “rare for [the] State Board of Education or VDOE to get involved” in hiring a local superintendent.
“Involvement typically occurs when a school division has a history of non-compliance with state credentialing standards, and the VDOE becomes involved in developing a memorandum of understanding with the local division to intervene in specific questions,” Qarni wrote in an email to The Free Lance–Star. “This could possibly include the selection of a superintendent; however, this would typically be written into the MOU and agreed to by both parties.
School board member Lisa Phelps emailed Schultz on Jan. 24, shortly after Schultz was named to her VDOE position by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, requesting a meeting.
Phelps contacted Schultz again on May 4, advising him that the school board would be seeking an extension to the 120-day time limit that Virginia code provides for a school board to fill a vacant superintendent position. Phelps also hinted at an upcoming conference the two would attend.
Schultz responded to Phelps the same day, thanking her for the “opportunity to touch the Spotsylvania County Superintendent’s Research Base” and saying, “It will be a pleasure to meet you at the Education Summit.”
She also forwarded Phelps’ email to Balow, Russell and Balow’s chief of staff, Dicky Shanor.
Later in May, VDOE Chief Policy Analyst Rebecca Askew forwarded Russell a request from Twigg for a meeting with Balow, to discuss “hiring, ratios and learning standards”, according to her email, which she copied to Twigg on her personal AOL. e-mail address. Twigg then followed up on that meeting request in another email to Russell.
Russell scheduled the meeting with Balow via Zoom for May 31.
School board member Dawn Shelley, who served as board president before Twigg, said she never requested a meeting with the state superintendent during her tenure as president.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate. There are over 130 school boards in Virginia. I don’t think the state superintendent would have time for that,” Shelley wrote in an email to The Free Lance–Star.
Two other former Spotsylvania school board presidents, Baron Braswell and Erin Grampp, also said they never requested meetings with the state superintendent and couldn’t think of a reason why they would. .
In April, the school board hired GR Recruiting to search for a new division superintendent.
On May 16, the school board held a special meeting with consultant Sandi Gero to finalize the requirements and profile for the new superintendent. At this meeting, board members objected to the successful candidate having experience in public education.
Gero told the board that she did not expect to receive applications from non-educators.
On May 20, school board attorney Brad King emailed Twigg citing Virginia Administrative Code Section 8VAC20-390-10, which outlines the requirements for being placed on the list of eligible state superintendent candidates.
According to the code, one of the qualifications candidates must meet to be included on the list is “at least five years of satisfactory, full-time experience in administration or supervision, or both, in public schools “.
“Here are the state regulations we just discussed,” King wrote to Twigg. “As you see, this confirms what the state STATUTE says: that superintendents must come from the list of eligible candidates maintained by the State Board of Education. Qualifications and pathways to this list are included in these rules.
King subsequently resigned as council counsel.
On June 7, Twigg forwarded King’s email with the citation of 8VAC20-390-10 to Russell, along with a different section of administrative code.
According to this article, 8VAC20-23-630, individuals may be candidates for a superintendent’s license if they have a master’s degree or equivalent, a minimum of three years of successful experience in a leadership position, and a recommendation from a “Virginia school board”. interested in hiring the person.
Twigg asked Russell in the June 7 email “for help writing a summary or edits [sic] state requirements.
In a document attached to the June 7 email, Twigg or Russell annotated the quoted section of code as follows: “A school board in Virginia may select a superintendent who is an experienced leader outside the world of public education. The school board’s right to choose an outsider as superintendent is found in Option IV of the Superintendent Licensure Regulation. Mr. Russell notes that the requested recommendation … would be in the form of a letter signed by the president of the local school board. That’s all we can say about it.”
GR Recruiting was accepting applications for the position of superintendent through mid-June, and the school board held two rounds of interviews with top candidates in late June and early July.
The school board held a special meeting to discuss the final two candidates for superintendent on July 8, but held no public vote to recommend either.
The next morning, Twigg emailed Russell with a “confidential” letter attached recommending Taylor for the job.
On July 10, a Sunday, Russell forwarded the email and attached letter to Balow, writing, “Jillian, if you have the chance, please review this attachment. I will try to reach you tonight.
Russell sent Twigg’s letter to VDOE Licensing Director Maggie Clemmons on July 11 and asked her to add Taylor to the list of candidates for licensing by the Board of Education.
On July 26, Russell forwarded an email chain between Taylor and Clemmons to Shanor.
“Chief of Staff Shanor, please meet with Spotsy School Board President, Twigg and Mark Taylor,” Russell wrote. “I have been working hard to get Mark through the end zone so that he will be approved as superintendent by the Board of Education at their next meeting.”
On August 4, Twigg wrote to Shanor, thanking him for “your letter earlier this week confirming that Mark Taylor has met his requirements” and for sharing the news that “your team walked down the hall and put [Taylor’s] name in the pile of several superintendents who [via package] be approved at the August 17 school board meeting…”
Twigg asked Shanor to tell him if he should expect anything to delay the Board of Education’s approval of Taylor’s licensure.
“As you know, we can’t wait to get started with our new superintendent, and we don’t want any setbacks,” he wrote.
Shanor replied that “it should be a consent agenda item, so no worries.”
The school board removed Taylor’s name from the list of licensure candidates on Aug. 17 after it became apparent that the Spotsylvania School Board had not voted in public to recommend him.
Board of Education members at the September 15 meeting said they were confident that this “procedural error” had been corrected and approved Taylor’s licensure by a 6-2 vote. .
Hiring a superintendent is one of the tasks assigned to local school boards by the Virginia Code, said Gina Patterson, executive director of the Virginia School Board Association, which has facilitated superintendent searches for many school divisions.
Patterson said the state Department of Education generally has little involvement in the process beyond issuing a permit.
Adele Uphaus: 540/735-1973