NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The Newport News School Board approved a separation agreement and severance with Superintendent Dr. George Parker III during a special meeting Wednesday night.
The board voted 5-1 to remove Parker, effective February 1. Board member Gary Hunter was the lone vote against removal.
"It is important that we state that this decision was made without cause," Board Chair Lisa Surles-Law said after the vote.
She added that Parker was "a capable division leader who has served Newport News for nearly five years through some extremely challenging circumstances. This decision is based on the future trajectory and needs of our school division."
According to the separation and severance agreement, he will get two years' salary paid over 12 months. 13News Now obtained a copy of Parker's employment contract, which stated his current salary of more than $250,000.
On top of severance pay, the agreement goes on to say, "If the Board requests the Superintendent's assistance in transitioning his duties to his successor, or for other purposes, after the Termination Date, it will compensate him at his hourly rate at the time of his termination."
"I stand alone again, but I tell you getting rid of someone is not going to fix this particular problem," Hunter said before he voted.
He said he was not a part of the vote of no confidence during a recent closed meeting and doesn't understand how the board got there.
"Eleven days ago, we were behind the superintendent 100%," he said.
Dr. Terri Best said this decision did not come out of nowhere.
Although Hunter said he hadn’t heard about many of the concerns from teachers before now, Best said she’s heard about some of them since she was elected in 2018.
However, she said the last 18 months created a perfect storm.
"There were concerns about climate and culture," she said. "Everything came together with the groundswell of concerns, of complaints and things like that and things that could have been done in a different way."
Board member Rebecca Aman agreed. She said just because the board isn’t hearing everything, doesn’t mean the concerns aren’t there.
"I think it takes great courage for people to come forward," she said. "Sometimes, we don't hear and see what we need to."
Board member Douglas Brown said he’s always supported Parker, but he’s convinced it’s time to move in a new direction.
"It was never a question of Parker’s leadership. It was a question of whether or not the staff would support his leadership in carrying us through the new challenges we are facing," he said.
The school board then voted 5-1 to appoint Dr. Michele Mitchell as interim superintendent. Board member Rebecca Aman was the lone dissenter for this vote, stating she wanted someone outside the school division appointed.
Mitchell is executive director of student advancement for Newport News Public Schools.
Wednesday's votes come in the wake of a shooting at Richneck Elementary School on Jan. 6, where police said a 6-year-old shot his first-grade teacher, Abby Zwerner.
Parker, who has been sharply criticized by parents and teachers in the wake of the shooting, has said that at least one administrator was told on the day of the shooting that the boy might have a weapon, but no weapon was found when his backpack was searched. Police have said that school officials did not tell them about that tip before the shooting, which happened hours later.
The night before the school board voted on Parker's departure, 13News Now spoke with Surles-Law, who said this was not an easy decision but they want to head in a new direction as a school division.
"We’ve heard from our teachers, we’ve heard from our administration and we have a direction that we need to head and at this time, it sounds like our best decision," she said.
The school division hired Dr. Parker as superintendent in 2018. Before coming to Newport News, he served as superintendent at Caroline County Public Schools.
Parker fell under public scrutiny on the heels of three shootings on school grounds since September 2021. In the first shooting, two students were hurt at Heritage High School. Then following a basketball game at Menchville High on December 2021, a Woodside High student was killed. The latest was the shooting earlier this month at Richneck Elementary.
After Wednesday's school board vote, Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones issued the following statement:
"Over the last four years, Dr. George Parker led Newport News Public Schools with a dedication to educating our children, and we thank him for his service to this community. My colleagues on City Council and I support the Newport News School Board as they seek to hire a dynamic, new leader for our public school system - one that will help us heal and move forward with the necessary changes to make our schools safer for everyone. I have faith that the School Board will find the right person to take Newport News Public Schools to the next level. While the last few weeks have been extremely difficult, Newport News schools and this community remain strong."
You can read the full separation and severance agreement below:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.