When Lake Highlands resident Lynn Davenport ran for school board in 2017, she focused on one major plank of her campaign’s platform – trustees in Richardson ISD, she said, worked too harmoniously. They approved decisions of the superintendent and district staff in unison, and they failed to ask tough questions when the leader created new policies and programs. Her proof? Of the trustees’ most recent 444 votes, 443 had been unanimous.
Dr. Jeannie Stone’s resignation this week is an indication of just how much has changed since then.
The 2019 Texas PTA Superintendent of the Year and favorite among teachers hasn’t publicly revealed what led her to negotiate a “separation agreement” with the district, but insiders say a complete turnover on the board over the past two years has been followed by conflict and strife inside the boardroom and constant second-guessing of her decisions. Stone loved serving the teachers and students of RISD, but the dissension and discord simply became too much. The board officially approved her resignation at their meeting Monday night and appointed deputy superintendent Tabitha Branum to serve until a new leader can be found. Until her final departure, Stone will remain employed by RISD to assist with the transition.
So, what happens next?
The most important task of the board is hiring and retaining a superintendent, and that search has now officially begun. The education world is small, though, and every administrator in the country worth his or her salt knows the obstacles Stone has faced. Applicants will be asking themselves how much salary they’d require before jumping into RISD’s hornet’s nest.
If the current, divided board can’t agree on a new hire, Lake Highlands voters could decide who is chosen next as superintendent. That’s because, after Karen Clardy resigned, the board has been split 3-3 on their support for Stone and other critical issues, according to insiders. Clardy represented District 5 surrounding Lake Highlands High School. Her replacement, elected in May, could be the swing vote with the power to pull the board – and the entire district – in one direction or the other.
The May 7 election could serve as a referendum, of sorts, as voters in LH and two additional districts decide whether to elect trustees committed to continuing Stone’s programs, including diversity & inclusion initiatives (DEI) and social emotional learning curriculum (SEL), which teaches children to manage anxiety, handle bullies and set priorities, among other critical life skills. Board president Regina Harris is expected to run again for District 4 surrounding Hamilton Park, and she has been one of Stone’s biggest supporters. Eron Linn, rep for District 2 surrounding Berkner High, has often opposed Stone’s policies and decisions. He’s already announced that he’s running for re-election.
The deadline to file as a candidate for RISD trustee is Feb. 18.
Update at 2:56 p.m.: Linn contacted Advocate Tuesday to say that, although he frequently “asked hard questions” of Stone, those questions should be considered good governance, not opposition. He reminded Advocate that, should Stone share her own reflections on the matter, it would be a violation of her separation agreement.