Mar. 3—Michael Thomas’ tenure as Colorado Springs School District 11’s superintendent came to an end Wednesday evening.
After a 2 1/2 hour special meeting, which was closed to the public, the district’s Board of Education announced a “mutual separation agreement” between Thomas and D-11.
Thomas, who assumed leadership of the district in July 2018, broached the subject of a mutual separation, according to president Parth Melpakam.
Melpakam struggled with his emotions as he bid Thomas farewell.
“I want you to know that I’ve always respected you for wanting to do the best for all students,” he said, adding that Thomas embodied “grace, humanity and decency.”
Board member Julie Ott said Thomas’ performance was unfairly judged because he had to lead the district through the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, which turned parents into de facto teachers and bedrooms into makeshift classrooms for a significant portion of Thomas’ tenure.
“I wish we had more time with you,” said Ott, the only member who was on the board at the time of Thomas’ hiring. “I am sad about this, but I’m also angry.”
Jen Williamson, co-founder of the advocacy group Neighbors for Education, said she and other members monitored the events in Douglas County — where the school board’s newly-elected conservative majority fired superintendent Corey Wise in February — and worried that D-11’s board might make a similar move on Thomas.
The board held an executive session last week to discuss “legal advice” pertaining to Thomas’ employment contract, leading Williamson and others to believe Thomas’ days as superintendent were numbered.
“Neighbors for Education has long feared that the newly elected D-11 Board of Education would force Dr. Thomas out of his position,” the group said in a statement. “This change in leadership negatively affects our community and will impact our students most.”
Some district residents believe Thomas’ fate was sealed on election night in November 2021, when Sandra Bankes, Lauren Nelson and Al Loma won their respective campaigns. During their campaigns, the new board members all expressed doubts and concerns about the district’s equity efforts, making them attractive candidates in the eyes of conservative voters.
Chief among Thomas’ stated goals when he took over as superintendent was to address equity and close achievement gaps within the district. With this in mind, Thomas established a department of equity and inclusion and performed an equity audit to identify and address those gaps. The moves toward equity were met with hostility from conservative stakeholders, with many of them calling for Thomas’ ouster.
Last December, shortly after Loma, Nelson and Bankes assumed their seats on the board, D-11’s director of equity and inclusion, Alexis Knox-Miller, dissolved the district’s equity leadership team.
The district also lifted its mask mandate for the final week of the fall semester, as COVID cases were rising in El Paso County. This was seen by some as an attempt to appease the conservative-majority board.
“I continue to encourage each of you to stand up for what you know in your heart is right for kids, and be unapologetic about it,” Thomas said. “I wish this district well. It will always be in my heart.”
Thomas’ separation agreement will include 14 months of severance pay and health benefits, according to district officials. Dan Hoff, one of D-11’s executive directors of student leadership, will serve as interim superintendent, officials said.
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