Two Columbus Municipal School District trustees who openly supported outgoing superintendent Philip Hickman are calling it quits.
Currie Fisher, who was about to complete her eighth year on the board, told The Dispatch she submitted her letter of resignation, effective immediately, to Mayor Robert Smith’s office on Thursday. First appointed to the board in 2010, her second five-year term was set to expire in March 2020.
Immediate past president of CMSD’s board, Angela Verdell, had already announced she would not seek reappointment when her term expired in March. She was first appointed in 2013 and served three years as president (2014-17) before Jason Spears won a split vote to replace her last March.
The two outgoing school board members made up the minority bloc of several 3-2 votes against renewing the embattled Hickman’s contract past its June 30 expiration. Ultimately, the majority of the board opted in November to search for a new superintendent.
Three applicants have already filed paperwork with the city to replace Verdell, and the Columbus City Council is expected to appoint her replacement Feb. 20.
For Fisher’s unexpired term, Smith said the city must open the application process and advertise the vacancy for at least 30 days before the council can appoint someone.
Fisher told The Dispatch her husband of 29 years passed away in August. That, in part, fueled her decision to step away from her public position.
“There are so many other things I need to concentrate on right now,” she said. “… I had to establish some priorities.”
During her tenure on the school board, Fisher said she believes CMSD campuses have become safer. She also believes the district has developed effective science, math, engineering and technology-based programs that have better-prepared students for the jobs of tomorrow.
Still, Fisher said she remains a proponent of higher teacher pay to improve recruitment and retention, as well as more consistent standards and leadership on the local and state level.
She pointed specifically the district moving through four superintendents in the last seven years, now culminated by the move to replace Hickman, as part of that inconsistency.
“How can you have consistency when you’ve had four different types of leadership?” she said. “I’m concerned our students and teachers don’t have consistent standards to rely on.”
On the state level, Fisher added, an inability to settle on a testing model has driven down student achievement and helped keep CMSD at a D grade on the state’s accountability ratings. Mississippi, for example, changed the standards testing model three consecutive years between 2014 and 2016, making it difficult for teachers to prepare students for the state exams.
Verdell did not return multiple calls and messages seeking comment by press time.
Spears, reappointed to a five-year term in 2017, along with Josie Shumake and Frederick Sparks, are the other CMSD trustees.
“I appreciate their service on the board,” Spears said of the outgoing members. “The community should also appreciate their efforts.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.