Amid Water Crisis, Flint Schools Superintendent Forced Off Job
The school board in Flint, Mich., has removed the district superintendent as the city and its schools continue to grapple with an ongoing water crisis.
President Diana Wright, a former district principal and central office administrator, announced Tuesday that the school board placed Bilal Tawwab on administrative leave effectively immediately. The board also placed the district's assistant superintendent and lawyer on leave.
In January, Bilal Tawwab told the school board that he planned to step down once his contract expired at the end of the 2018-19 school year. The school board apparently wanted to give him a head start in his job search. The board planned to host a special meeting today to begin the process of hiring a new leader.
"The Board will initiate a Superintendent search to identify qualified candidates to lead the district and continue the positive momentum built over the past two years by Superintendent Tawwab, including a focus on academic outcomes and enrollment, the expansion of the Community Education Initiative, and commitment to a robust early childhood education program," Wright said in a prepared statement. "We will work closely with community partners throughout the search process and our primary objective remains the same—strengthening student performance across all schools."
The statement did not indicate why Tawwab and the others were placed on administrative leave.
Tawwab had led the district since the summer of 2015 and won national acclaim, including from Education Week, for his decision to shut off the water in every district building that fall after a local pediatrician revealed widespread lead poisoning among the city's children. His decision came well before the city, state, and federal officials declared states of emergency in the city.
But while the Flint schools managed to climb out of a $22 million budget hole during his time on the job, there was little to celebrate in the violent, poverty-stricken city where students are enduring their third school year of relying on rationed bottled water.
More than two years after the crisis began, water tests in some schools still found lead levels that exceeded federal safety limits and the district continued to lose students to charter schools and neighboring districts as families sought other options.
Education Week selected Tawwab as one of its 2017 Leaders to Learn From awardees for his leadership in crisis management. For now, the district remains in crisis—and now without a leader.
Photo Credit: Outgoing Flint, Mich., schools Superintendent Bilal Tawwab.
--Brett Carlsen for Education Week-File