Dr. DeAnna McClendon is not looking back.
“I’m not looking in my rearview mirror at what is behind me in Memphis,” she said. “There is work to be done for the children here in Monroe County and that’s what I’ve been hired to do. That’s my focus.”
Newly-released documents from Shelby County Schools detail the outcome of the investigation surrounding McClendon at her former school district. In June, while she was interviewing for the director of schools position in Monroe County, it came to light that McClendon, who served as the director of Early Childhood Programs in Shelby County Schools, was on paid leave pending an investigation. No details on the investigation were released at that time.
A couple weeks later, McClendon was selected by a majority vote from the Monroe County Board of Education as the new director of schools. The School Board added a clause to McClendon’s two-year contract that stated if any indictment or ruling came out of the Shelby County Schools investigation that McClendon would “step away and cost the county nothing.”
According to documents obtained by WREG-Memphis, a letter was sent to McClendon on July 12 with a subject line of, “Update on paid leave status and outcome of investigation.”
“Dear Ms. McClendon:
As you are aware, the District engaged an outside, independent investigator after having received numerous complaints against you from several employees in the Department of Early Childhood Education, containing allegations of discrimination based on ethnicity and national origin, employee intimidation, harassment and other maltreatment, misappropriation of grand funds, program mismanagement and failing to execute the administration of the Head Start grant with fidelity and unethical hiring practices, all under your leadership. The District also received complaints containing general concerns of a toxic and hostile work environment in Early Childhood under your leadership.
Over the course of the investigation, several current and former Early Childhood employees were interviewed. On June 28, 2019, and July 8, 2019, our office attempted to meet with you to inform you of the results of the investigation and to notify you that, based on the findings of the investigation, discipline is warranted and will be imposed on you. On July 8, 2019, your representative advised that you were not available to meet. Therefore, this missive should be considered official notification of the findings of the investigation and the imposed disciplinary action.
The investigation’s results are as follows:
- It was determined that no Early Childhood employee(s) has been discriminated against based on ethnicity, national origin or any other protected class.
- It was not found that you intimidated or harassed employees. However, it was determined that you mistreated or retaliated against employees you disfavored, and that you engaged in improper conduct by allowing an employee to complete an assessment on your behalf for which you were required to personally complete.
- It was not found that Head Start grant funds were misappropriated under your leadership. However, it was determined that due to your failure to provide proper oversight, on one occasion you permitted a vendor to be paid for work involving the installation of a playground at a specific site that was not actually performed at that site. It was also determined that you allowed an employee to use District property for non-SCS purpose without authorization. Beyond that, there was no indication you permitted your direct reports to order personal items using District funds or misuse District property.
- It was determined that you failed to provide adequate guidance and leadership for Early Childhood employees in properly documenting eligibility determinations of individuals selected to participate in the Head Start program.
- It was determined that you led and participated in questionable employee promotion practices, including, but not limited to, creating positions for certain favored employees and, to some extent, manipulating the application and interview processes to ensure favored employees were promoted to the created positions.
- It was determined that you created, encouraged, permitted and fostered a toxic work environment as demonstrated in the bullet points above and with evidence of your fostering of a work environment based on favoritism and not fair accountability, questionable promotion practices and threatening to fire employees or fresh start entire departments, effectively creating job insecurity and uncertainty among direct reports.
- The investigator could not find evidence of a hostile work environment.
Based on the foregoing, the preponderance of evidence indicates that you violated Board Policy No. 4016 in connection with your employee promotion practices; created, encouraged, permitted and fostered a toxic work environment; and failed to provide proper guidance and leadership in the administration of, and selection of individuals for participation in the Head Start program.
I am aware that, as of the date of this letter, you have resigned from your position of Director of Early Childhood effective July 5, 2019. However, you failed to appear before this office, as required, to be advised on the results of the investigation and of the recommended discipline. Therefore, due to the nature and severity of the infractions and in light of your failure to appear before this office as was required prior to your separation, I have recommended to the Superintendent that the appropriate discipline is your being coded in our hiring system as a “Do Not Rehire.” Enclosed you will find a letter signed by the Superintendent.
Chantay Branch, director
Office of Employee Relations”
In a conversation with The Advocate & Democrat on Wednesday, Sept. 4, McClendon echoed what she said during a community meeting with the director of schools candidates in mid-June.
“Leadership frequently comes with you having to make tough decisions that are going to be for the good of all,” she said. “I’m going to do what is right. I am going to make a decision, even if it’s a tough decision or a hard decision, I’m going to do what is best for the children and the majority. And, that doesn’t always make you popular.”
McClendon said her body of work should stand for itself, despite personal allegations against her.
“I think I have a great body of work that I left in Memphis. I took a division with a $7 million dollar budget and increased it to a $52-54 million dollar budget,” she said. “There was an increase in test scores for our children, as well as kindergarten and first-grade children… I can already see things happening here in Monroe County so I’m excited about what we’re going to be able to do together here.”
As far as her contract with the Monroe County School System, McClendon said the outcome of the investigation will not affect anything.
“The only thing I could say it would do is give people good rumors to talk about and make them be unfocused on the work,” she said. “That’s the only thing I hate (about this). I want people to buy into my vision for Monroe County Schools, to support what we’re doing here and to stay focused on the work at hand. Let Memphis take care of Memphis.”