By Carolyn Marnon – On June 14, the Wayne-Westland Board of Education received a written complaint from a former District employee regarding the conduct and actions of the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Shelley Holt. Dr. Holt has been in the position for two years, succeeding Dr. Michelle Harmala, who took a new position with Madonna University in 2017. The Board had also received similar complaints about Dr. Holt that have been expressed by members of the community at school board meetings.
A special Board of Education meeting was called for Thursday, June 20, to determine whether an investigation should be initiated into the allegations against Dr. Holt.
School Board President David R. Cox tried to start the meeting by hearing from students and recent graduates who had gathered at the meeting. A five-minute recess had to be called when Dr. Holt’s attorney tried to speak at the podium out of turn before the first student had a chance to speak. “Let the kids talk,” came from somewhere in Wayne Memorial High School’s Stockmeyer Auditorium which was almost filled to capacity with concerned citizens.
One of the student speakers told the Board to act on the community’s behalf and not “on your personal opinion.” During the five-hour meeting, there were claims that the superintendent had given the board a 44% pay increase, therefore members had a reason not doing anything to investigate any claims. The board was questioned as to why former Wayne High School Principal Kevin Weber was immediately removed from his position when allegations were made against him (details were not given), but allegations against the superintendent were not being immediately investigated. Another speaker claimed the children were being used as pawns. There was a claim that Dr. Holt’s husband served in the military with someone related to the school board and that another school board member was a sorority sister of Dr. Holt. One speaker called out Dr. Holt on smirking and eye-rolling during board meetings. Another five-minute recess was called when Anthony Adams, Dr. Holt’s attorney, tried to once again address the Board out of order. A mother of a 2019 graduate and a freshman said that Dr. Holt has been a transformational leader in the two years she’s been in the District and that she’s a model leader. A woman read an NAACP statement. A gentleman who had been a substitute teacher spoke about witnessing Kevin Weber being escorted out of his office. A principal said Dr. Holt has been the best superintendent she’s worked with in 15 years. A woman said an investigation needed to be done to determine what’s factual and what’s rumor otherwise the rumors will continue. She said if nothing is wrong, the issue should be put to rest. A gentleman agreed, saying an investigation would determine what did and didn’t happen so Dr. Holt could get her life back. It was also mentioned by a district employee that not all administrators supported the written complaint that had been made. Another speaker said “If she’s (Dr. Holt) done nothing wrong, she has nothing to hide.” The president of the teacher’s union said the union has no position on the matter before the Board.
The School Board, consisting of Tom Buckalew, David R. Cox, Melandie Hines, Carol Middel, Mark Neal, Frederick L. Weaver and Shawna Walker, voted 4-3 to have the allegations fully investigated to determine their validity or lack thereof. The investigation will be conducted by the attorneys of the Lusk Albertson law firm; the findings shall be reported to the Board.
After the resolution to go forward with the investigation was passed, the Board continued to take comments from those who remained in the audience. After the vote, about 1/3 of the attendees chose to leave. A teacher said trust needed to be rebuilt between all parties. A Westland councilwoman addressed the board about alleged corruption in Westland. Another person requested that the report, when ready, be released to the community. An administrator asked for a fair investigation while keeping the district moving forward. Another person said the issue at hand was not about race, faith or character but about the allegations. A rising senior at Wayne Memorial spoke to the “children” in the audience (n reference to students), “Don’t let adults influence what you say or do or that you don’t know what you are talking about.” A plea was made to bring Lindsay Rousseau, former Assistant Principal at Wayne Memorial, back to her position. She was recently reassigned to Marshall Upper Elementary as its Principal. A gentleman spoke about how he had addressed the school board last year about his concerns when many staff members from central office retired or left the district. A woman commended the students who had spoken earlier on the way they conducted themselves better than adults; she also demanded Ms. Rousseau be offered her former position back.
After the vote, Superintendent Dr. Shelley Holt was placed on administrative leave. She will remain on paid administrative leave until the Board determines that the concerns regarding her conduct have been resolved and/or addressed. During her leave, Dr. Holt is not allowed to be on school grounds, act as a representative of the school district, engage in any activities related to the performance of her duties, or communicate with any school district employee without first obtaining permission from the school board president, David R. Cox. Dr. Holt was directed to participate in all aspects of the investigation including, but not limited to, appearing for and participating in any requested interviews.
While Dr. Holt is on leave, Ms. Jennifer Curry, Assistant Superintendent of Standards, Learning and Innovation, was designated by the Board as the Interim Superintendent.
In a letter released by the school district after the meeting, Board President David R. Cox stated “The Wayne- Westland Board of Education believes that a strong responsive public school system is essential to the health and vitality of the community we serve. To carry out our mission of educating and preparing all students to be knowledgeable, responsive, contributing members of a global society, we must provide an environment of trust within our buildings that is safe and secure for all to work, learn and grow.”
The letter continued, “The Board has recently been presented with serious allegations lodged against the Superintendent of Schools. The allegations contend, in pertinent part, that a culture of fear, favoritism, and intimidation has been perpetuated by the Superintendent, resulting in adverse impacts on staff and, ultimately, our school community.”
The letter concludes “Importantly, the action to place the Superintendent on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted is not disciplinary, nor does it represent any accusation of wrongdoing. It is a necessary procedural process required to determine the validity or lack of validity of these allegations. Completing this process fairly, quickly and professionally with respect to all parties involved will be essential to the resolution of this issue and the return of focus to our central mission – the education of our students.”