Associate superintendent of Salt Lake City School District resigns

School board member says Gwendolyn Johnson-White told him she didn’t feel safe after the district’s treatment of its superintendent.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Associate superintendent Gwendolyn Johnson-White at a meeting of the Salt Lake City school board on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

With the superintendent of the Salt Lake City School District still in limbo on administrative leave, the associate superintendent resigned Wednesday, according to school board member Mohamed Baayd.

Gwendolyn Johnson-White told Baayd that pressure from district employees has made her day-to-day life at work “a living hell” and pushed her to resign, he said.

“She did not feel safe any more in the [district office] building,” Baayd wrote in a text. “... Here you go, another Black cabinet person has been chopped off the SLC school tree.”

[Read more: As Salt Lake City moves to shed its first Black school superintendent, a look at what went wrong]

Gadson, hired by the district a year ago as the first Black superintendent in Utah, was placed on leave by the board in July. He hired Johnson-White for the newly created position of associate superintendent; she had retired from education in 2011, aside from teaching part time at private Grand Canyon University in Arizona, where Gadson also has taught.

Kimberley Mackey, executive director of organizational and strategic leadership, resigned in June after six months on the job, when it was discovered she had falsely reported completing a doctoral degree.

That leaves Leeson Taylor, executive director of school leadership and performance, as the last of three Black cabinet members hired by Gadson still working in the district.

But Taylor’s position is also under scrutiny; he received a letter from district administration on July 26 informing him of his demotion to chief officer in the same department, Baayd said.

Taylor has not accepted the demotion, which would come with a pay cut, and is appealing the decision, Baayd said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Executive Director of School Leadership Leeson Taylor at a meeting of the Salt Lake City School District Board on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022.

District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said she could not confirm that Taylor had been demoted. Explaining the process generally, she pointed to district discipline policies that consider a demotion as similar to a dismissal, and give employees 15 days to appeal. They have a subsequent five days to respond when an officer schedules a hearing. The hearing officer shall hold the hearing “within a reasonable time” after being notified of the appeal, the policy states.

Chatwin said the district has not set a date for the mediation it plans to pursue with Gadson.

When Gadson was placed on leave, the board selected its only other direct employee, Business Administrator Alan Kearsley, to lead the district, instead of Johnson-White.

The associate superintendent position did not exist under recent previous superintendents. Johnson-White was hired at a salary of $169,249.

On her application, Johnson-White said she had never been placed on disciplinary probation or suspended. But records from the Florida Education Practices Commission show that she was suspended without pay for 20 days and put on two years of probation in 2011 for allegedly keeping “no-show” students on her school’s rolls in order to beef up attendance numbers. Records show Johnson-White blamed teachers who were racist and disgruntled by her strict rule-following for the attendance issues, claims the hearing officer did not find credible.

Gadson was questioned by the school board after he took a trip to Grand Canyon University in January to investigate the private religious college’s online college courses for high school students. He told the board that he paid his own way on the trip, The Salt Lake Tribune has reported, but in May, he filed a sworn declaration with the Attorney General’s office indicating that he had taken an “all-expense-paid trip” to GCU from Jan. 12 to 14.

District administrators and employees have questioned the ethics of taking that trip and Gadson’s hires, and have complained about what they feel is a degrading work environment under his leadership.

But his defenders have accused the school board of engaging in a racially motivated witch hunt to rid itself of an outsider who has shaken up the way the district has done business.

Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City Branch of the NAACP, has asked the U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into alleged discrimination and harassment of Gadson by the school board.

Baayd said he is hopeful that the DOJ will begin an investigation before the mediation with Gadson occurs. He wants people to understand that while Gadson “is not an angel,” he said, the board made little effort to coach him through his mistakes.