Pleasantville’s schools superintendent claims a faction of the community is gunning for her, but she’s not going quietly.
Dr. Natakie Chestnut-Lee held a press conference Friday to announce she is calling on the Attorney General’s Office and FBI to look into the school district after what she claims is a move by an “organized family” to keep control.
But others say the conference where she lauded her accomplishments and cast aspersions on a portion of the school board was meant to divert from her own issues, including allegations she lied on her application.
The allegations come after at least five of the nine Board of Education members signed a petition to have Chestnut-Lee be Riced, a move that is necessary before discussing her employment and could lead to possible termination.
Chestnut-Lee said this comes after a “perfect evaluation” by the board, where she met all five of her merit goals in less than a year.
But a recent complaint signed by former Board of Education member James Pressley has raised questions for some board members.
A copy of Chestnut-Lee’s application shows she said she had never been the subject of an administrative investigation or been fired.
It’s accompanied by copies of the minutes of two 2018 meetings that dispute that.
At the April 16, 2018 meeting of her former school board, she was placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent investigation.
Then, in June, the board voted to terminate her effective June 30, 2018.
Chestnut-Lee then sued the district. She cited the settlement of that suit when asked about the discrepancy, insisting she didn’t lie.
Later Friday, she sent BreakingAC a tort claim and cease-and-desist for board members Jerome Page and Anny Melo from continuing the claims that she lied, showing that at a Feb. 4, 2020, meeting, her termination was rescinded and she was allowed to voluntarily resign.
That was mentioned in Pressley’s 94-page filing.
When asked whether that still would mean she had to answer yes to being put on administrative leave, she replied: “The termination was rescinded, a favorable recommendation … from PAC exists in my Pleasantville personnel file and a background check was done prior to my hiring. Therefore, the recision of termination and the favorable recommendation resolved my PAC employment without taint. The e-filed complaint is public record.”
After Friday’s press conference, she said there was more than one tort claim.
One of those claims was by Roderick Knox, the district’s grant writer, who claims there was a campaign against him led by board member Jerome Page.
A flyer calling Knox the district’s R. Kelly seems to reference two former criminal cases in which the ex-Atlantic City firefighter was accused of sexually assaulting two different underage girls: one in 1995 and another in 2010.
He was acquitted in both cases in separate trials more than eight years ago.
That flyer does not mention the acquittals. It claims Knox and the superintendent are having an affair.
“The derogatory flyers have no bearing on my life,” Chestnut-Lee said at the press conference, not detailing their contents.
Instead, she said they were part of “the same playbook being played once again in this district.”
She claims that playbook is from one family, who she later confirmed is the Callaways.
But Craig Callaway, the leader of the longtime political family, denied those allegations.
“She’s barking up a whole wrong tree,” Callaway told BreakingAC. “I don’t know what’s going on in Pleasantville as far as what’s going on with the district. I’ve never met this lady before in my life.
“I don’t know anything about her background, her political affiliation — whether she has any or doesn’t,” he added. “I don’t know any history on this lady whatsoever.”
Callaway’s niece, Carla Thomas, was once board president, but hasn’t been on in more than a year, he noted.
Chestnut-Lee has not yet notified the attorney general or FBI, she said.
An investigation by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is pending, outgoing state monitor Michael Rush wrote in a letter to board members Thursday.
Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Cary Shill declined comment.
The petition “contains some inconsistencies,” wrote Rush, whose last day was Friday.
Chestnut-Lee said some of the signatures may be forged.
But it’s unclear why she thinks that, as the members who signed the petition obtained by BreakingAC were all named by her as working on the side against her: Yadira Falcon, Anny Melo, Alejandrina Alberto, Sharnell Morgan and Jerome Page.
This isn’t the first public issue Chestnut-Lee has had in the district.
She and the ousted High School football coach, Javier Garcia, have filed complaints against one another.
Chestnut-Lee claimed Garcia harassed her by trying to have a meeting with her when she was not available, according to the report obtained by BreakingAC.
Garcia claims the superintendent has made sexual advances and used her position to force him to make flyers for an event that protested the state monitor and even had him bring players to the protest to boost attendance at the event.
In a text message obtained by BreakingAC, Athletic Director Stephen Townsend tells the group that he was asked to reach out to them about the press conference in March.
“We would like some of our athletes to attend … (with) their sports gear on, if possible,” he writes. “I will be there representing the athletic department as well.”
Meanwhile, the superintendent’s Rice notice is on hold as the investigation is pending, Rush wrote.
“I think it’s a witch hunt,” board President Julio Sanchez told BreakingAC. “I don’t agree with it.”
Such notice would allow Chestnut-Lee to decide whether her employment was discussed in executive session or in public.
Instead, she took her case to the media Friday.
“I was not a hired puppet, and I cannot be bullied or intimidated into compromising who I am,” she said. “I’m here to stay. I will remain here until God says, ‘Well done, it is time to move on.’”