Former Aiken County School Board members Tad Barber and Ahmed Samaha released their letters of resignation to the Aiken Standard on Friday.
Barber and Samaha resigned effective immediately Thursday night after the board voted to accept the resignation of Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford after meeting for three hours in executive session.
Board member Rosemary English, who was elected to the board in 1998 and is a former board chairman, said she will resign from the board on Friday, which will be Alford's last day with the district. English represents District 7, representing attendance area 1.
In his resignation letter, Barber wrote “this board has lost its bearing and is not focused on improving the schools or its curriculum to maintain a high standard that would sustain our mission to become a Premier School District in South Carolina.”
He continued: “This board has been focused on reversing decisions that prior boards had put in place to help us achieve the 'Premier' designation by disregarding proper procedure and protocol while ignoring factual supporting data. This board has caused division and dissension among itself and it has become quite burdensome to get meaningful policy passed.”
In his resignation letter, Samaha wrote, “Unfortunately, the projected direction the current board is choosing to take is not congruent with my core values and the vision I have for our students and educators. In my view, the board’s current approach to decision making and policy setting does not support my primary objective of student success, both in and outside the classroom, from pre-K to post-graduation.
Barber, Samaha and English represented residents mostly in Aiken, leaving their districts without representation on the school board until an election to fill their seats is held.
In an email sent Friday, Cynthia Holland, the Registration and Elections director for Aiken County, said said she can determine filing dates for candidates as soon as she receives the board members' resignation letters.
In an email sent Friday, Board Chairman Keith Liner said he had "no comment" on the board's decision to accept Alford's resignation by a vote of 6-2-1. Liner, Barry Moulton, Sandra Shealey, Jason Crane, Dwight Smith and Brian Silas voted for the motion to accept Alford's resignation. Barber and English voted against it, and Samaha abstained.
Liner said the board would begin considering who to appoint as the interim superintendent and the timetable to begin a search for a new superintendent at the next school board meeting. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at Silver Bluff High School at 64 DeSoto Drive, Aiken.
The Aiken Standard also requested a copy of Alford's resignation letter from Liner. In an email Saturday, Liner responded as follows: "Please put your request in writing and the District will provide responsive information as appropriate."
Barber's resignation letter
Barber's full resignation letter is as follows:
"I have been a member of the Aiken County School Board since November 2012. During that time the district has transformed from an average district that provided a good education to its students, to one that has become innovative and proactive and now offers a world class education to its current student population. In addition, during this time the School Board, along with the superintendents and staff, has improved numerous school building facilities and added more rigorous coursework and standards. The district is much better off today, than it was just seven years ago when I began.
"It is my belief that this board has lost its bearing and is not focused on improving the schools or its curriculum to maintain a high standard that would sustain our mission to become a Premier School District in South Carolina. This board has been focused on reversing decisions that prior boards had put in place to help us achieve the 'Premier' designation by disregarding proper procedure and protocol while ignoring factual supporting data. This board has caused division and dissension among itself and it has become quite burdensome to get meaningful policy passed.
"Tonight, this board has taken a huge step backwards, which I believe has further reversed the progress prior boards have made. This is in addition to those previous reversals that have happened since last November’s board election. I attribute this to a lack of leadership and a willingness of the leadership to make choices that were inappropriate and perhaps unethical; the lack of full-board communication, and collusion by certain members, has been allowed, which has further deteriorated this board’s ability to govern. I do not believe future board relations will improve any time soon.
"I am proud to have been able to serve as a board member for the past seven years, and I appreciate the citizens of my district entrusting me with this responsibility and honor. I have been a witness to substantial positive change and improvement at this district, and I am quite happy with what I have been able to accomplish with my colleagues on past boards. For that I am thankful.
"However, because this board is not in line with my beliefs and values, it is with deep regret, much prayer, and after consultation with my family, that I have decided to resign my position as the District 8 representative of the Aiken County School Board, effective upon the conclusion of tonight’s meeting.
"I wish this district, its teachers, staff, and administration all the best and I pray for a promising future for all associated with this district.
"Sincerely, Thaddeus D. Barber"
Samaha's resignation letter
Samaha's full resignation letter is a follows:
"Dear Families and Students of Aiken County,
"It has been my honor and privilege to serve as Aiken County Public School District’s School Board representative for Area 9 for the last 3 years.
"The outstanding work our teachers, administrators, and district leadership do to ensure our youth – ultimately the future leaders of our community and country – will be engaged, informed citizens amazes me each and every day. Our students and the commitment their parents and guardians have to their education inspire me.
"As an elected official, chosen by parents and families throughout Aiken, my singular mission has been establishing effective and efficient programs that ensure each and every student’s success. Unfortunately, the projected direction the current board is choosing to take is not congruent with my core values and the vision I have for our students and educators. In my view, the board’s current approach to decision making and policy setting does not support my primary objective of student success, both in and outside the classroom, from pre-K to post-graduation.
"Therefore, effective immediately, I am resigning my elected position. As a parent of a child in our district, I will continue to support and promote public education in Aiken County and will remain committed to working at the grassroots level to make our district the best it can be and worthy of our citizens.
"Sincerely, Ahmed Samaha"
Members of the Aiken County School Board, including Liner, Barber and English, voted to hire Alford on June 30, 2015, by a unanimous vote.
Before Alford became the district superintendent, Aiken County voters approved a 1% sales tax in a referendum in November 2014. Revenue from the tax can be used for new construction and renovations only at Aiken High School, North Augusta High School, Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, Ridge Spring-Monetta High/Elementary schools and the Aiken County Career and Technology Center. Revenue also provides property tax relief.
In May 2018, Aiken County voters approved a bond referendum to pay for expansion, renovations and security upgrades at only Millbrook Elementary, Hammond Hills Elementary, Belvedere Elementary and Midland Valley High School. Funds also will be used to build a new elementary and middle school between Graniteville and North Augusta.
Alford created thematic high schools, including Advanced Placement Academies open to all students at South Aiken High and North Augusta High, and brought the Cambridge International program to Aiken High School and Schofield Middle School.
Alford also implemented partnerships allowing students to earn college credits while still in high school. The school district partnered with Aiken Technical College to create the Early College program at Midland Valley High, allowing high school students to earn associate degrees before graduation. The first cohort in the program graduated in June.
The district also started the Aiken Scholars Academy through a partnership with USC Aiken. Students take accelerated classes during their freshman and sophomore years and then take USCA classes to earn college credits during their junior and senior years. The school's second freshman class started in August.
Alford also created thematic programs at other middle schools and, this school year, began language immersion programs in German, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese at Millbrook Elementary, Clearwater Elementary and Belvedere Elementary respectively.
Alford set a goal of establishing Aiken County Public Schools as the emerging premier school district in South Carolina to make the district more competitive with districts such as Columbia County in Georgia and Lexington and Richland counties in Irmo and Columbia.