Aiken County School Board members voted to accept the resignation of Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford, who was honored in March by the South Carolina Athletic Administrators Association as the organization’s 2019 5A/4A Superintendent of the Year. The decision came after the board met for three hours in executive session Thursday at a special called meeting.

Alford was not at the meeting.

The decision prompted the resignation of board members Ahmed Samaha and Tad Barber. Rosemary English said she, too, will resign. The decision also angered members of the audience who vigorously voiced their disapproval.

Alford's resignation will be effective Sept. 13.

The motion to accept the resignation “also authorized the board chairman to execute a mutual agreement with Dr. Alford regarding his resignation consistent with the terms of his contract, such agreement having been prepared by the district's attorneys and reviewed by the board in executive session.”

Board member Brian Silas made the motion.

Board members Silas, Dwight Smith, Barry Moulton, Jason Crane and Sandra Shealey voted to accept the resignation. Barber and English opposed the motion, and Samaha abstained.

Immediately following the vote, Samaha announced that he was resigning from the board effective immediately and walked out of the meeting, bringing applause and cheers from the more than 100 people in the standing-room-only audience, who supported his decision not to support the board's decision.

After reading a statement, Barber announced he was resigning, too.

In a prepared statement, Barber said the current school board “is not in line with my beliefs and values,” again drawing cheers and applause from the audience in support of his decision not to accept Alford's resignation.

In his statement, Barber said: “I've been a member of the Aiken County School Board since November 2012. During that time, the district has transformed from an average district providing a good education to the students to one that has become innovative and now offers world-class education to it current student population.

“In addition during this time, the school board along with the superintendent and staff have approved numerous school building facilities, added more rigorous coursework and standards. The district is much better off today than it was just seven years ago,” again drawing applause and cheers and calls of “Amen” from the audience, who supported his position.

“I have been a board member for seven years, and I appreciate the citizens of my district entrusting me with the responsibility and the honor. I've been a witness to substantial positive change and improvement in this district, and I'm quite happy with what I've been able to accomplish with my colleagues on past boards. For that, I am thankful.

“After much prayer and consultation with my family, I have decided to resign my position as the District 8 representative on the Aiken County School Board effective upon the conclusion of tonight's meeting. I wish the district, its teachers, staff and administration all the best and I pray for a promising future for all associated with the district.”

English also spoke, becoming emotional and trying to hold back tears.

“I came to Aiken in 1963 right out of college,” she said. “Aiken was a good place to work then and has grown progressively better each year. I have always been a lady of integrity and truthfulness. I've taught everybody and his brother in Aiken County – many board members.

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to say that there is no way that I can sit on his board,” again drawing applause from the audience. “I will give Dr. Alford the honor of coming back on Sept. 13, and after that, I'm finished.”

When Liner called for the motion to adjourn following Ensligh's statement, audience members became angry, one saying, “Why don't you talk to some taxpayers?”

Another audience member said, “Y'all about to wreck this district.” Another said, “Vote them out.”

Several audience members called the board members who voted to accept Alford's resignation, “Cowards, cowards.”

One said, “You know you were wrong.”

The packed audience included principals and administrative staff from the school district, religious leaders, state and city government representatives and community members.

While waiting for the board members to return from executive session, the Rev. T.C. Edwards, the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Aiken, said a prayer: “We ask for cool heads and calm minds. We ask that the school board will make decisions not based on race or color, Father God, that decisions will be made out of love and on the merits of the good and all that has been done. Lord, help us tonight as we have come in peace and that we will leave in peace, but, above all, that this board, Father, would do the right thing; that this board, Father God, will not invoke color in anything; that this board, Father God, will look at all the facts and the positive that has been done to help our children, little children, Father God. We pray for the entire community.”

Then Edwards asked the standing-room audience to recite the Lord's Prayer with him.

After the meeting, Edwards said of the resignation, “It was believed from the start when the current board members unseated some of the former board members that their mission was to get rid of the superintendent. All of the actions, basically, most of them, if you look over them carefully, you'll see that a lot of their actions were to try to reverse much of the progress that the School Board has made under (Alford's) leadership.

“Aiken schools, the system, is doing well. Grades, graduation, all of that is up. Everything is positive. It should be about the kids and not about, maybe, personalities – I'll say it: the man has done – and is doing – a wonderful job. I think he's going to be a gift to any other school system that hires him. It's just sad that here in Aiken County I think the clock has really been turned back.”

In his prayers, Edwards said the board's decisions should not be based on “race or color.”

When asked if the board's decision to accept Alford's resignation was motivated by race, Edwards said, “Possibly, possibly, yes."

Edwards ended by saying the people of Aiken County need to vote.

“I think the people of Aiken County who have been hurt by what has taken place need to get out and vote,” he said. “We have to vote and really look at the people we're voting for. We just can't sit home. We've got to get out and go to the polls and vote. God help us all.”

After adjourning the meeting, Liner said the board would not take interviews.

Members of the Aiken County School Board voted to hire Alford on June 30, 2015, by a unanimous vote.

A former teacher of world and American history, psychology and modern literature, Alford came to Aiken County with two decades of administrative experience in South Carolina’s public schools.

Before coming to Aiken County, Alford was the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Dorchester School District Two in Summerville.

At Dorchester School District Two, Alford directed instructional and technology programs for 22 schools in support of teaching and learning for more than 25,000 students and directs academic support and training for more than 1,500 teachers and staff.

Under his leadership in Dorchester, graduation rates increased by more than 10 points in the past several years. Also, while serving in a previous role as Beaufort County’s chief instructional services officer, seven schools achieved “Excellent” report card ratings; zero schools received the top rating before his direction and supervision.

Alford was born in Newark, New Jersey, but his family relocated to Miami, Florida, when he was in the fourth grade. He came to South Carolina on an athletic scholarship to play football at The Citadel in Charleston.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.