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Resigning: Two years later, Benton Harbor’s superintendent is stepping away

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- After it was announced on Thursday she’d be resigning, ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz spent Friday looking through Dr. Shelly Walker’s two-year tenure as superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools.

Administrators, school board members, and teachers declined on Friday to comment on the latest challenge to hit the district, but one parent with two kids in Benton Harbor schools explained what she was thinking when she heard Walker is leaving.

“Wow. Because I figured that [she] was a perfect superintendent,” said Kiley Lofton. “She was doing right by Benton Harbor. Period. And that’s what we need, so, what now?”

When reached on Friday to react to Walker’s resignation – and to see if Walker’s resignation would trigger any changes to the partnership agreement BHAS has with the state to stay open – Martin Ackley with the Michigan Department of Education provided this statement:

"Despite the change in leadership at Benton Harbor Schools, the Michigan Department of Education will continue to work with the district and its community partners and build upon what they have in place in their Partnership Agreement. Our first commitment is to the students of Benton Harbor and to try and help bring some stability to the district."

Lofton said she’s frustrated by the amount of turnover the district continues to see.

“It’s real tough,” she said. “Because, you have to think about it, you have kids growing up in the community and then they’re not getting the education that they need.”

So far, district leaders have not announced how they will go about finding a new superintendent. Assistant Superintendent Patricia Robinson has been serving as acting superintendent since Walker was originally placed on leave.

Timeline of Dr. Walker’s tenure as superintendent

February 2016 – Walker hired as superintendent

June 2016 – BHHS Principal Rodger Tripplett placed on paid leave

October 2016 – Board President Sharon James resigns

Fall 2016 – District applies for state safety & gang prevention grant

December 2016 – Tripplett fired following months of paid leave

January 2017 – State school reform office reveals three of district’s six schools at risk of closing

Spring 2017 – District awarded $2 million safety & gang prevention grant

April 2017 – Prosecutor charges former superintendent Dr. Leonard Seawood with misusing school funds

May 2017 – District enters partnership agreement with state to stay open; Walker extends contract to stay on for three years of agreement

July 2017 – Hull Principal Romel Bryant fired after six months on job

December 2017 – Video of fight in BHHS puts spotlight on violence in district

December 14, 2017 – Board trustees vote to open investigation into handling of safety & gang prevention grant

January 9, 2018 – Marletta Seats named school board president

January 30, 2018 – State adds new stipulations to partnership agreement

January 31, 2018 – Seawood sentenced to jail time and probation

February 6, 2018 – Walker placed on paid leave

February 19, 2018 – Walker decides not to attend annual review

February 20, 2018 – District’s chief financial officer resigns after just three months

March 7, 2018 – Trustees give Walker ineffective rating

April 5, 2018 – Walker resigns

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