Polk County Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd on Tuesday announced her retirement effective next year in a strongly worded letter to the school board that cited “disharmony” among board members.
In the letter, Byrd said she accepted the position of superintendent in 2016 during “a time of turmoil for our district” marked by “low academic performance, a lack of civility and professionalism, and an almost irreparable level of distrust towards the district with the Polk County community.”
Despite the challenges she cited, Byrd said the school district achieved significant benchmarks during her tenure. Among the accomplishments, she listed increasing the district’s grade from a C to a B, increasing the graduation rate from 69.4% to 81.2%, decreasing the number of low-performing schools from 58 to 21, and sustaining two consecutive years with no F-rated schools.
Byrd accused some board members of attempting to “materially blur” the responsibilities of the school board – which governs policy and the budget – and the superintendent, who oversees operations.
She said the overreach has been "unprecedented" in her 32 years in education, and the disharmony it generated has become “a major roadblock” in her efforts to serve as superintendent.
“Notwithstanding my differences with some board members, deciding to retire was a very difficult decision,” Byrd said in the letter. “I cannot help but consider that every journey, no matter the ups and downs we may encounter thereon, always has an end (part of the journey is the end).”
Byrd did not identify board members by name in her letter.
According to the Ledger of Lakeland, board member Billy Townsend has been critical of Byrd in the past, but has more recently been complimentary, including in her annual review. Tuesday, Townsend told the Ledger he regretted she has decided to leave.
Byrd started her career more than 30 years ago as a teacher in Jacksonville. She worked as a principal and district administrator there before becoming the Duval District's Chief of Schools. She arrived in Polk County in 2013 to become deputy superintendent.
Her retirement will be effective in late February 2021, five years after assuming the district's top administrative post.