JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three days after the governing board of Cornerstone Classical Academy in Jacksonville voted unanimously to fire the school’s principal, Dr. Melanie Williams sent a letter to more than 50 stakeholders of the charter school, saying her termination was the result of an “unfair and unwarranted evaluation.”
“Earlier this week, a story was published on the News4Jax website concerning my termination,” Williams said in the four-page letter. “Since the Board was silent, the article could not provide an explanation for my termination. This could obviously cause someone to conclude I must have done something terrible to be terminated so abruptly. Let me assure you I have done nothing terrible and, in my opinion, have not done anything to justify my termination. If I have, I wish the Board would explain it to me.”
The letter described Williams’ firing as unexpected and abrupt, but later in the message, Williams said the governing board of the school laid out numerous “inadequacies” in her performance in mid-December, though she denies their accuracy. Williams said her termination began with her initial suspension following a special board meeting March 5.
After that meeting, Williams said Lindsay Hoyt, who chairs the charter school’s governing board, and David Wood, the board secretary, went to Williams’ office and asked for a meeting in the school’s conference room.
In that meeting, Williams said the two board members explained that her performance hadn’t improved since the mid-year evaluation and that the board would be moving to terminate her. According to Williams, the board members said that they wanted to avoid “negative publicity,” so she would be offered a severance package in exchange for a letter of resignation.
“I requested one week to contemplate a decision and was told that the Board was ready to take immediate action,” Williams recalled. “I offered that I could have a decision ready by Monday. Mr. Wood explained that I was placed on administrative leave for 30 days effective immediately, that my email was shut down, and that I must hand over my school laptop and keys to the building. I complied with their request and was escorted out of the building.”
As News4Jax previously reported, the board finalized Williams’ termination March 9.
At the time, the board released a statement to News4Jax and students’ families, saying in part: “We thank Dr. Williams for her service as the school’s first principal and wish her well in her future endeavors. The Board believes this new direction is in the best interest of the school.”
“This is a personnel issue and we will not be commenting further,” Wood told News4Jax via email in response to a request that sought clarification on the reasons for Williams’ termination.
In Williams’ letter, she describes being unaware that there was any dissatisfaction with her job performance amongst the board members, but her letter goes on to recount Hoyt criticizing the administration, the school’s operations, and suggesting that the school create and fill a CEO position at the school.
“Unfortunately, this Special Board Meeting was just one of several special board meetings that followed each week in October with a similar theme—Meetings began in an uneventful manner until near the end when Mrs. Hoyt spoke ill of my leadership,” Williams said. “She called into question my judgment, my ability to manage the operations of the school, and accused me of not properly overseeing the area of compliance. Her criticism was unwarranted.”
The letter also describes an “academic situation” that led to a parental complaint to Hoyt, but it doesn’t go into detail about the situation. Williams said it led the board to ask Dr. Dan Ryan, a founding board member, to launch an investigation into Williams’ handling of the situation. News4Jax has requested the details of that investigation.
In the mid-December board meeting, Williams said the results of her evaluation were indeed discussed with her.
“Mr. Wood discussed numerous inadequacies in my performance per the evaluation,” Williams said. “I would like to stress that the evaluation did not contain evidence, or data, to support its claims.”
According to a copy of the mid-year evaluation obtained by News4Jax, Williams got mixed reviews across a combination of performance areas. While she scored well in the academic, leadership and start-up year responsibilities categories, she got lower marks in operational/organizational, functional leadership, organization & management and communication.
While the evaluation does not go into detail about every assessment of Williams’ work, the description under the operational and organizational category included several pointed criticisms. Among them was a line that stated Williams sat on emails to or from the Duval County Health Department from February to August, which “nearly had the (school’s) charter revoked.”
“DCPS reported a very poor image of principal and CCA,” the report went on to say. “If not for board’s direct intervention, (her) actions would have resulted in revoked charter.”
Reached on Monday, Williams told News4Jax she felt the evaluation was “incredibly unfair,” calling it “rubbish.” She said the way she was terminated, after being a driving force behind getting the school up and running and generating a wait list of 160 students, left her feeling “very used.”
“I think it was a terrible injustice,” Williams said Monday. “I think it was incredibly inaccurate and I believe that it is an excuse to terminate me for reasons at this point I am unaware of.”