SLC Students Deserve Better

Leadership Has Failed At Many District Levels


Emma Johnson

Former Salt Lake City superintendent Dr. Timothy Gadson visits students at Hawthorne Elementary last Valentine’s Day.

Olivia Hufford, Senior Editor

“A boss has the title; a leader has the people.”  

Such impactful, yet simple words are meant to persuade officials everywhere to take the influence they have on their community seriously. 

Leaders in education have a commitment, first and foremost, to the children and the community they serve. Sadly, some leaders in education seem to have shifted the dialogue to themselves in place of teachers and more importantly the students who are the future. 

The issue is, when a leader fails to put the people first, they have failed as a leader entirely.  

Here is what you may have missed this summer break: 

The Salt Lake City School Board offered to buy out the remainder of Dr. Timothy Gadson’s first year as superintendent during a closed-door meeting. After Gadson refused, he was put on administrative leave. This was according to one board member, Mohammed Baayd. 

Gadson was remarkably the district’s first Black superintendent in history, which would have been a major step in better representation and diversity in education. 

However, after the school board’s apparent pursuit of Gadson’s termination with no public explanation, some community leaders spoke out, saying they believed the driving factor behind the dispute to be racial bias.   

The idea that the first Black superintendent in the Salt Lake District would be forced out by any form of racism, whether it be implicit biases or blatant discrimination, is abhorrent. 

Now, as of September 23, the Salt Lake School Board has issued a statement that Dr. Gadson asked the board to accept his resignation, “citing personal reasons.” He will continue on in the capacity of consultant for the remainder of the year. 

Interestingly, the statement ended with a rather vague affirmation: 

“Notwithstanding public speculation to the contrary, there has been no finding of any wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Gadson and no violation of law by either Dr. Gadson or the Salt Lake City School Board.” 

Wrongdoing, whether directly or indirectly manifested, is nevertheless in question. So, let’s take a look. 

The Salt Lake Tribune interviewed several district employees who were kept anonymous due to their fear of repercussions from speaking on the matter. 

According to the article, some employees discussed a “palpable fear” throughout the district and a troubling atmosphere. “Gadson’s critics have raised three main issues,” the Tribune found: “a trip he took to a religious college in Arizona; the qualifications of [. . .] his top hires; and his general conduct toward district employees.”   

Information about two of these employees is easily accessible public information. 

Dr. Kimberly Mackey fabricated a PhD and is no longer employed by the SLCSD. 

Associate Superintendent Gwendolyn Johnson-White, who has since resigned, was put on probation as a principal for Palm Beach County School District, despite stating she had never been placed on probation in her application for SLCSD. 

Both individuals were Gadson’s hires and, most notably, all this information could have been discovered with a simple Google search – something, apparently, that the district human resources department did not have the time to conduct. 

Transparency about closed-door meetings is difficult to achieve due to legal obligations, however, there comes a point when confusion has persisted too long, and the media must take a frankly uninformed degree of ownership over an issue which deeply affects a community. 

Now, the dialogue then extends beyond matters of either Dr. Gadson’s mere fallibility or pure misconduct to the competency of the district itself.  

Why has the Salt Lake School Board failed to hire a superintendent that inspires the trust of the community, now for the second time in just four years (Dr. Lexi Cunningham was hired in 2018 and resigned under pressure two years later)? 

According to a FOX 13 Investigative report, the district has spent nearly $60,000 to investigate complaints against Gadson, but only issued verbal warnings for undisclosed offenses. At a time when our shrinking school district is being forced to drastically cut teaching positions and close elementary schools, is this a reasonable expense—especially considering the potential cost of Gadson’s consultant fees? 

All we can affirmatively say is that the 2022-23 school year began with a cloud of uncertainty, no superintendent, and unresolved allegations of racism. 

As the most diverse school district in Utah, the SLCSD has a vital role in creating a safe and uplifting environment for students. 

All students deserve to be represented and seen, and any claim of racism, regardless of what amount of truth can be attributed to it, has unmistakable impacts on families who already struggle to have their voice heard. 

A School Board, superintendent, and district leadership that fails to prioritize the fact that they represent every student–of every demographic and ability–has failed as leaders. 

Notably, however, our teachers, cafeteria workers, custodians, and office staff began the school year with a desire to lead students towards success. They were prepared to do so, with or without a superintendent.  

A leader has the people at the forefront of their mind. 

Yet, through this undisclosed controversy that has rocked the community, we are forced to ask ourselves: who are our leaders thinking of, if not the children and families that they stand for?