January 9, 2018 10:08:10 AM
Columbus Municipal School District has a new director of its special education program.
The CMSD board of trustees Monday unanimously chose Cheryl Smith to replace the outgoing Donna Jones as SPED director. Board members released Jones from her contract at her request.
Board president Jason Spears said Jones asked to be released from her contract because she had found another position elsewhere, though he said he didn't know the details. However, her departure from the district comes after state and local scrutiny fell on the SPED program.
In September, the board called a special meeting to discuss the state of the district's SPED program, and parents of children with disabilities complained their children were not receiving the proper services they needed in a timely manner, or at all.
Columbus resident Heather Ford filed a complaint with the Mississippi Department of Education in October -- only a few weeks after the special-call meeting. Her complaint alleged the district was not providing services the students with special needs were entitled to under federal law. Several other parents have also filed complaints on behalf of their own children in the last year.
Spears said he received no indication Jones' resignation was due to the recent MDE investigations or the multitude of parental complaints and scrutiny of her job performance.
"The request for release was very short on details," Spears said. "She told us that she had another job that offered her 'great advancement' or something to that effect. Since we had a suitable replacement, we were able to release her."
Jones did not attend Monday's meeting, and The Dispatch could not reach her for comment.
Smith, who has been employed by CMSD since 1999, has served as a teacher, assistant principal and most recently case manager. Smith also served as the interim director of special education during the search that led to the hiring of Jones, Spears said.
During Smith's time with CMSD, Spears said she has served in multiple capacities within the SPED department, which is why she was the recommended candidate to replaces Jones.
"She's built a good rapport with the parents, and she understands the job," Spears said. "I know she has some things to learn ahead, but the board feels confident in her abilities to not just resolve some of the issues we have encountered, but improve the department greatly."
Smith's annual salary is $75,000.
During an executive session, the board also took action on three requests from teachers seeking to be released from contract. Two were granted, since the board has found suitable replacements. One was not.
Spears said all three requested release for different reasons. He said he could not release any further details.
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