NOTE: This story was updated to acknowledge the role of Dr. Delois Campbell, a black woman who served as acting superintendent in the 1990s.
Atlantic City schools’ new leader made history Tuesday night.
Dr. La’Quetta Small became the first black woman to become the city’s permanent superintendent.
She will start her new job Jan. 1, at a salary of $210,000 for four years.
The special Board of Education meeting was the first in-person only meeting in more than a year.
Dr. Delois Campbell was the first black woman to have the lead role in the district, when she served as acting superintendent before the late Fred Nickles got the job in 1999.
The meeting room was filled with Small supporters who lauded the current Atlantic City High School principal’s work ethic, education and commitment to the students.
“Her passion for learning and her love for her students shows daily through her actions,” read Kashawn McKinley as he recited several texts he said he received from educators.
The speakers began with Ventnor Mayor Beth Holtzman, who said she was thrilled to hear Small was the search committee’s choice.
A few students and even Small’s daughter spoke on her behalf.
“I think my mom is the best candidate for superintendent,” 13-year-old Jada Small said, telling how her mother was on the phone late one night taking care of students.
But there were some detractors.
“When it comes to the elections in this town, when it comes to the politics in this town, we know who the puppeteer is,” said Steve Young, who pointed to Joe Jacobs.
Jacobs is a political powerbroker who previously served as the board’s solicitor. He is current Superintendent Barry Caldwell’s brother-in-law and previously was of counsel for the law firm of current solicitor, Tracy Riley.
“We know it’s already done because we heard the order from Mr. Jacobs,” Young said, as Jacobs shrugged in his seat.
“I haven’t been to a meeting in over 25 years,” Jacobs later told BreakingAC.
When asked why this one, he replied, “because it’s a historic event in Atlantic City.”
Craig Callaway, a longtime political rival of Mayor Marty Small, brought up the issue of the new superintendent’s cousin, Ka’yan Frazier.
The convicted child pornographer worked at Pennsylvania Avenue School when Small was principal. He met his victim — a then-third-grader — while working at the school.
Dr. Small is now one of several people being sued by the child’s mother, who claims the Smalls knew about Frazier and that some of the assaults even happened in their home.
“Of course you would select her, because a majority of this board are immoral people,” Callaway said.
“Instead of protecting the children, La’Quetta Small became the child molester protector,” he said, to which the crowd erupted in boos.
Henry “Hank” Green, who is running for school board, said he had nothing against Small, but was concerned with the process.
“Why would we do it a week before the election?” he asked.
In response, board President Shay Steele said the current superintendent’s contract expires Oct. 31.
“So we had to have the special meeting at this time to fulfill this need,” Steele said before the Small vote.
When asked about the board vote June 30 that was to extend Caldwell’s contract for as much as a year with nearly a 12½ percent raise, Steele insisted it was not for a year.
He nodded when asked if was made clear that it was Oct. 31.
But when the superintendent’s start date was made public later, it was Jan. 1, two months after the date Steele gave.
Before the vote, the board chose someone to fill the unexpired seat of Farook Hossain, who recently resigned.
Jarrod Barnes will fill that set through December. He also is running for a full term on the ticket with Steele and current board member Ruth Byard.
The night ended with applause and cheers as Small was approved with eight yeses, including Barnes.
Only board member John Devlin abstained.
Board member Al Herbert could not attend due to COVID. He requested accommodations to allow him to appear virtually, but the solicitor said in an email that “based on advertisement of the meeting and Board policy we cannot accommodate (Herbert’s) request to appear via Zoom.”
At the last meeting, Herbert appeared via Zoom, using as his profile photo a picture of Jacobs and Gov. Phil Murphy.
When asked about the photo, Herbert told BreakingAC: “If any of what is going on seems unbelievably corrupt, and the public is wondering why the state authorities or law enforcement are not stepping in, that photo should answer all of those questions.”
The advertisement for Tuesday night’s meeting on the board’s website made no mention of the meeting being in-person only.
In fact, it is worded the same as a similar announcement when a special meeting was held June 30 to continue discussion on Caldwell’s contract extension that gave him a more than 12 ½ raise.
While it mentioned nothing about Zoom and was not a regular meeting, board members and the public were able to view it via Zoom.
BreakingAC even included a Zoom link to that meeting.
Steele said that there had been discussions about returning to in-person meetings, and that it was decided that the special meeting would be the first.
The board’s website still has the announcement that all regular meetings are via Zoom in its list of upcoming and past meetings.
The in-person only meeting also comes while limits from COVID are still in affect and while the state is under a weather state of emergency issued by Murphy.
COVID has been covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act in some cases.
An attorney who handles unrelated ADA cases told BreakingAC that the district could be opening itself up to a lawsuit by not accommodating Herbert.