(Editor’s Note: this online version has been edited for clarification regarding a quote of Melissa Williams)
By Don Rush
The end of the Nov. 22 Oxford School Board meeting closed in dramatic fashion when school board president Dan D’ Alessandro read aloud a statement from Superintendent Ken Weaver.
“It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that I have been placed on a medical leave by my doctor from November 23, 2022, until February 20, 2023. After much thought and reflection, I have decided to resign my position as superintendent of Oxford Community Schools with an effective date of February 21, 2023. Over the last month, my health, wellness, and my own recovery from the events of November 30th has been greatly impacted by the stress and responsibility of my position. With the deterioration of my health, I have come to understand that my own recovery path must now lead me away from Oxford Community Schools,” D’Alessandro read. “ . . . I knew it was going to be an almost impossible task with many difficult situations. Even then, I underestimated the toll the position would take on me. It saddens me to think that my long tenure with Oxford Community Schools will end, but I also realize it is the best for both the school district, myself, and my family. My decision will allow the new school board to select a new superintendent to lead Oxford Community Schools through the second year of its recovery and it will allow me the opportunity to heal and recover from my own experiences. I will participate in the District’s independent review before officially leaving the school district and I will continue to uphold my responsibilities in any legal proceedings.
“I am extremely proud of our staff and how they have responded to the November 30th tragedy by putting in place a comprehensive plan to address the many supports needed to help students and staff through this difficult period. By their actions, I know our staff truly loves and cares for our students. At this time I wish to express my love and care for the students, families, and staff of Oxford as well. For this reason, I have struggled with this decision. While I know the timing of this decision is at a critical time in Oxford’s recovery, I could not have foreseen the impact that the last couple of months would have on my health.”
The board voted to accept Weaver’s resignation and appoint assistant superintendent of elementary instruction Anita Qonja-Collins as the acting interim superintendent effective immediately. They also voted to find a professional search firm to help identify a permanent interim superintendent “who will support our school community as we undergo the process of finding a permanent superintendent.”
Weaver became superintendent in March, just four months after the mass shooting at Oxford High School shocked the community. On Nov. 30, 2021the shooting took the lives of four students, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, Justin Schilling and Madisyn Baldwin. Six other students and a teacher were wounded by gunfire. Since the beginning of the year there has been much frustration from members of the community on how the school board and administration has handled the investigation into the shooting as well as sharing information. The district and individuals from the district have been named in numerous lawsuits since. At many school board meetings students, parents and members of the community have spoken up and shared their anger to the board and Weaver during audience participation portions of the meetings. Since, two school board members then President Tom Donnelly and then treasurer Korey Bailey both resigned this past September.
Ironically, at the Nov. 22 meeting two members of the audience, before Weaver’s statement was read, each took to the podium in favor of the superintendent.
Elementary teacher Barbara Johnston said, “Thank you for making the choice to do your job in these hard times. I support you, Ken Weaver.”
An emotional Melissa Williams, an administrative assistant at the high school went to the podium and then turned to face the audience.
“It’s been a year and I decided I wanted to say something tonight. My name is Melissa Williams. I am a parent here in the district. I’m a parent of a junior who was there that day. Who was in the hallway in one of the 200 rooms. I’m also the administrative assistant to the principal and I was there that day and I wanted to say thank you to a few people. I wanted to say thank you to Steve Wolf, who locked me in my office and said do not come back out. I want to thank you for that. While I was on the phone with 911, I want to say thank you to Mark Suckley who locked all the outside doors so that it was safe. I want to say thank you to Pam Fine, who ran in and out of the building screaming for help and Mr. Weaver who did the same thing. In and out without Kevlar vests. In and out. I want to say thank you to Kristy Gibson Marshall, Kurt Nuss. You have been broken. We all have been broken, but I want everyone to know that what breaks us are the meetings that we hear – and I want you to know know first and foremost I love every family. I was on those cameras. I’ve seen things that I don’t want anyone else ever to have to see. I love every single one of you. I could not imagine . . . my son is alive today and I know I’m blessed for that. You’re in my heart every day. Your children’s faces, they are on my walls. Everyday I pray for all of us. I just want to say thank you. It’s Thanksgiving and I wanted to say thank you to those people who helped me that day. And, there’s truth to come out, but it’s not my place, but I hope that there’s more truth than what we’re hearing at this podium every week.”
Also, before the statement of resignation, a representative from the investigative team hired by the district, Guidepost Solutions, updated the board on their investigation. The representative said Guidepost will present two reports – one will review current policies and threat assessments with recommendations. The other report will be a “full accounting” of what led up to the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting. “This report will pull no punches,” the representative said. The reports should be ready in 2023.
Before accepting Weaver’s resignation, a number of board members spoke.
Treasurer Heather Shafer said, “Ken is a servant leader. He leads to serve the people, he leads to serve the people he works for, the people he governs, the student body and the community. That’s who Ken Weaver is.”
Board member Colleen Schultz said, “ My heart is broken. I am so proud of Ken. He’s a husband and father of four, they should be his first priority.”
President D’Alessandro ended comments with, “He (Weaver) knew the position he was taking and maybe didn’t realize the way the world seems to work these days, the world needs to blame someone to blame . . . I am grateful for Ken. He is a super, super person. The district will miss him. However, the district is bigger than me. It’s bigger than Ken, than anyone sitting on this board. The district goes on, we will see better days because of the staff and the students.
Weaver joined the district in 2003. He has served as assistant principal of Oxford High School, principal of Oxford Middle School and assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. He was promoted to deputy superintendent in 2018. He holds an education specialist degree in school administration from Oakland University and a masters in educational leadership from Brigham Young University. As superintendent he oversaw a district with about 800 staff and over 7,100 students (1,800 of those at the high school alone). Weaver and his wife Cari have four children. Two have graduated from Oxford schools and two more are current high school students.
Minutes after the close of the school board meeting we posted on The Leader’s Facebook page, “The Oxford School board has just accepted Ken Weaver’s resignation as superintendent for health reasons.” Community comments from The Leader’s Facebook page were all in support of Weaver. Here’s a sampling:
Kevin Kadrich: Praying for him, his family and this District. Great man, great loss.
Dawn Freeman Wynn: Sending prayers for Mr. Weaver. This is a big loss. He truly loved our kids.
Christine Russell: Heartbroken that an amazing educator, a determined and passionate leader, a mentor, and the best part of Oxford will not be there on Monday. Take care of each other, give feedback with compassion, and remind each other of the good each day. I hope Ken’s decision provides him some ability to recover.
Catherine Dietiker: I’ve always admired his willingness to take on such a difficult job, especially given his own trauma. I’m so sad to learn of the toll it’s taken on his health and I pray he’ll be okay.
Emily Taylor: I’m heartbroken. I love Mr. Weaver. He was the principal at OMS when I was there in 7th grade. It’s a great loss to Oxford School District
Melissa McCallister Vawter: Will be praying for his health. He will be missed so much. He has the biggest heart and has loved our community and shown such great leadership.
Kelly Therese: Such a good man, I’m so sad to hear this news, but we will cover him in prayer for whatever is next for him.
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Qonja-Collins has worked with Oxford Community Schools since 2018 and has experience working as a teacher and as an administrator prior to coming to Oxford.