Anti-gay letter fails to deter hiring of Georgia school superintendent

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The letter did disrupt the process

Dawn Clements will take over as Ben Hill County Schools superintendent Wednesday after a topsy-turvy process that drew an outpour of community support for the 22-year district employee.

Clements was poised for the top job. She is a graduate of the school system and served as a teacher, coach, administrator and the interim superintendent.

But she attempted to resign in January after an anti-gay letter circulated in the community.

“This woman has a lot of qualifications, except one, to be a superintendent: the moral qualifications to be a role model for children,” the letter states.

The school board and many residents soundly rejected the letter and Clements’ resignation. Hundreds took to social media and showed up at a special board meeting to show support. The board unanimously offered her the job at its February meeting.

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Board chair Shirley Brooks said Clements accepted the position soon after.

Clements’ “commitment to our community cannot be questioned,” Brooks said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I have complete confidence in Dawn and her ability to lead our district.”

Brooks said Clements “stepped up when we needed her” by accepting the interim superintendent role in June 2022. Brooks felt finalizing a leader selected unanimously by the board and with strong support from residents puts the district on the right track to promote student achievement.

Ben Hill sits midway between Valdosta and Macon, and the schools have about 3,000 students.

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The letter went viral in local circles and ended up mobilizing many to demand Clements be hired as superintendent.

“It is highly unlikely that anyone could find a candidate for superintendent that is more qualified and has the integrity of my friend Dawn Clements,” one person wrote on Facebook. The district drew attention from local television stations, Atlanta news outlets and organizations like Georgia Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

A woman who answered a phone call to the author’s home said he declined to comment.

Brooks said she was glad for things to calm down and for the board and district to get to work.