Members selected unlicensed replacement, may have violated FOI law

The West Memphis school board has terminated the district’s superintendent, Richard Atwill, without cause or explanation on a vote of 4-3. Members voted to hire Willie Rhodes as interim superintendent.

Joyce Gray, a former West Memphis city clerk with a reputation for being difficult to work with, is one of the four members who voted to fire Atwill. In 2020, Gray resigned form her city clerk position after accusations she mishandled public records.

The other members who voted to fire Atwill include Joann Faulkner, Anthony Hampton, and Basil Joiner. None of the four has offered an explanation since the meeting. If these four members met to discuss the ousting of Atwill, the meeting would have been illegal. A nonpublic meeting of school board members directly violates Arkansas’s Freedom of Information Act law. It’s been reported to On AR Watch that documentation of an off-record meeting of the four exists. We’re hoping FOIA requests will bring that paperwork to light in the coming days. 

Additionally, Rhodes’ qualifications are being called into question. The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website states that superintendents must have a District Level Administrator accreditation in order to serve as district leader. Willie Rhodes does not have this level of education and is not licensed to serve as West Memphis superintendent, even in the interim. To make matters worse for Mr. Rhodes, his Arkansas educator license expired in 2019.

Why was Rhodes appointed in the wake of the hasty firing if he does not have proper accreditation, or even a teaching license, to serve as interim superintendent of West Memphis Schools?

Atwill’s buyout was over $400,000, which is a few years of pay for the position he is leaving.

When asked about the issue, the mayor of West Memphis stated, “I hope whatever decision is being made is being done in the best interests of our children.” We hope so too, but the suspicious details surrounding this convince us that Joyce Gray and others might have a yet-to-be-seen plan to shake things up even more.

We’ll have to wait and see.