NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The Newport News School Board voted to fire Superintendent Dr. George Parker III during a special meeting Wednesday.
The board voted 5-1 in favor of a separation agreement and severance for Parker. It also voted 5-1 to appoint Dr. Michele Mitchell, currently the executive director of student advancement, as the interim superintendent. Dr. Mitchell has served as a teacher, an assistant principal, a middle school principal, director of special education, and interim chief academic officer. Her tenure with NNPS spans nearly 28 years.
“Effective Feb. 1, Dr. Parker will be relieved of his duties as superintendent of Newport News Public Schools. It is important that we state that this decision was made without cause, cause being defined in his previous contract, as Dr. Parker is a capable division leader who 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. In addition, I must relate, we do appreciate the progress for the division under Dr. Parker’s leadership in developing a long-range facility improvement plan and expanded student programs through a focus on mentorship and student leadership. The Newport News School Board thanks him for his service and wishes him nothing but the best moving forward.”School Board Chairwoman Dr. Lisa Surles-Law
Parker’s current salary is $251,057.57, and per his contract, he will receive full salary and benefits until June 30, 2024, since he was terminated without cause.
NBC News reported that Parker declined comment through a division spokesperson Wednesday.
Parker’s firing and the appointment of a new interim superintendent comes as the division grapples with the fallout from the Jan. 6 shooting of teacher Abby Zwerner by a 6-year-old boy in her class at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News.
And, it comes as Zwerner’s lawyer Diane Toscano announced her intent to file a lawsuit against the board on behalf of Zwerner.
“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.”
School Board Vice Chairwoman Dr. Terri Best said she had been a supporter of Parker, but she has heard concerns about the climate and culture in the school division, and raised those issues with him.
She suggested that division staff and parents have lost trust of Parker.
“Sometimes it’s just time for new leadership,” Best said.
She said she would continue to pray for Zwerner, and also pray for the child.
“I do believe that we will get through this,” Best said. “I support the separation agreement.”
Board member Marvin Harris said that this decision is an opportunity for them to show that “tragedy can breed greatness.”
However, board member Gary Hunter opposed the separation agreement with Parker, saying he didn’t know what has changed in the past 10 or 11 days when the board had been backing the superintendent.
Surles-Law said it is time for the board to start anew with a new leader for the division.
“We need to reset ourselves,” Surles-Law said. “It will require all of us, in the community and on the board. Our commitment is to our students, and out of this tragedy, we need to see opportunity.”
Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones issued a statement Wednesday evening on Parker’s firing.
“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,” Jones said. “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.”
Also on Wednesday, a Newport News Public Schools spokesperson confirmed Richneck Vice Principal Dr. Ebony Parker had resigned. She and Dr. George Parker III are not related.
Students at Richneck Elementary have not returned to class since the shooting. The district announced the first day back will be Monday, Jan. 30.
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.