NEWS HEADLINES

Whitis will stay; Board votes 4-3 to keep superintendent

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, June 23, 2018
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Dr. Judi Whitis will remain the superintendent of Decatur ISD.

With a 4-3 vote after three hours in closed session, Decatur ISD trustees elected to keep Whitis on the job and move forward Monday night.

Whitis joined the district in July 2017. Her contract with the district runs through July 30, 2021, paying her $158,000 annually.

“I appreciate the board’s willingness to move forward, and I’m looking forward to great things in the district,” Whitis said. “I’m ready to get back to district business and deliver on the promises we’ve made. I appreciate all the community support. We’ve got rebuilding to do.”

Monday’s long closed session was the second within a span of two weeks to discuss Whitis’ contract, which was extended in February after a review by the board. Trustees met for seven hours June 4-5 in closed session a week after School Board President Watson sent Whitis a two-page letter detailing “multiple concerns [that] have been brought to the attention of several [board] members recently.”

Board secretary Cheri Boyd read the following statement prior to the vote Monday: “The Decatur Independent School District’s Board of Trustees met tonight in executive session to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. The board recognizes that concerns have been raised by some about the superintendent, and board members have also received statements of support for Dr. Whitis. After considering what is in the best interest of Decatur ISD, the majority of the board has expressed its willingness to move forward with Dr. Whitis as our superintendent. Dr. Whitis will work with the board and district stakeholders to address these concerns. Communication is always key to success of any relationship, and we, as a board, pledge to work on communication with the superintendent. The board appreciates the community’s strong partnership with DISD, and we are ‘expecting the best’ in the days to come.”

Boyd said after the meeting that it’s been a long two weeks.

“The majority feel this was the best possible decision. I look forward to moving on and working with her as our superintendent,” Boyd said.

Watson along with vice president Matt Joiner and trustee Marsha Hafer cast the dissenting votes.

“Information was brought to the board, and the majority of the board felt it was in the best interest of the district to continue with Dr. Whitis as the superintendent,” Watson said. “The majority of the board felt that way. That’s why there’s seven of us.”

Watson’s letter sent to Whitis in the last week of May stated that board members had received communications from multiple individuals who feel the district is moving in a negative direction. It alleged personnel felt hesitant to share their concerns with Whitis, fearing retaliation; individuals leaving the district expressed demoralizing and unprofessional treatment; and individuals felt one internal individual was providing counsel not in Whitis’ best interest or the best interest of the district.

Whitis said following Monday’s vote she will address the concerns.

“It’s something we need to work through,” she said. “I’ll do my due diligence to work through those and work with the board to determine the next steps.

“It’s taken a toll on everyone. But sometimes it takes this to make us better and put us on the right path to better things ahead.”

Nearly 70 people turned out for the board meeting with many hanging around for the board to emerge from its closed session around 10:20 p.m.

Three people spoke during the open forum at the start of the meeting. Mark Southard and Robin Lewis both voiced support for Whitis.

“Dr. Whitis should be applauded for raising the level of accountability in our district,” Southard said.

“She deserves the chance to make changes and see the impact of those changes…I have complete confidence that last summer you hired the exactly the right person for the job. Give her support, give her some time and let her do her job.”

Lewis said Whitis “expects the best and holds her staff to a higher standard.”

“We want the best and will get there with Dr. Whitis leading us,” she said.

Recently retired Carson teacher Becky Liles voiced concern about the recent departure of Carson Principal LeeAnn Farris. Liles read part of her resignation letter.

Trustees met with attorney Paige Kyle of Walsh Gallegos, the district’s regular counsel, during closed session. The board also called back Whitis for a brief meeting.

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