Parents in two school systems are likely surprised today with the announcement that Phil Lanoue, the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year and Athens-Clarke County school chief since 2009, will not be joining Fulton County Schools. He intends to stay in his current job.
The state's fourth-largest school system, Fulton tapped Lanoue earlier this month to fill Robert Avossa's post. Lanoue gained national attention for many of his reforms in Clarke County and for his criticisms of the testing culture.
In a statement explaining why he withdrew his name for the Fulton superintendency, Lanoue said:
Phil Lanoue is staying in Athens for now.
After much reflection, and in consult with my family and the CCSD administrative team, I have come to a decision that home — here in Clarke County — is where I need to be. Therefore, I have withdrawn my name from the superintendent search process in Fulton County.
These past few weeks have been incredibly difficult, and it’s clear to me that while we have made incredible strides, there is still much to be done. This community is one that rallies behind its schools, in good times and in bad. Again, this is where I want and need to be.
I look forward to our work together in the future. Our dialogue remains open. Our parents are our most important partners, and our teachers are the ones who make it happen each and every day in our classrooms. Your voice matters, and we will continue working together to do what is right for all students.
Of course, there is always a backstory, and Lanoue's seems to be a messy one. Athens has been roiled by the alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl in a stairwell at Cedar Shoals High School and charges the school system failed to act in a timely and responsible manner.
The same day that Fulton County announced Lanoue was their only finalist, news accounts that three students had been charged with the rape of a 15-year-old girl at Cedar Shoals High School appeared. That soon spiraled into a public relations nightmare for the school system as word began to filter out that school officials not only failed to inform parents, teachers and students that anything had happened, but that the three teenagers now jailed on felony charges had been allowed to remain in school while Athens-Clarke police investigated.
I have been hearing from Athens readers unhappy with the response to the rape case at the school and central office levels. While the alleged rape occurred in January, parents were not alerted for a month. The principal was relieved of his duties 12 days ago. I assume Fulton officials also heard from unhappy Athens parents.
Given the frustrations around this case and the fact Lanoue was willing initially to embrace the Fulton job, the question may now be whether his future is secure in Athens. (I have personally heard both reactions today; his decision to stay is good news and his job is secure. His decision is bad news and his job may be on the line.)
Online comments in the Athens Banner-Herald today reflect some of the hostility toward Lanoue. "If he resigned, he needs to reapply for his job. And I vote no," commented one Athens resident.