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Cleared of wrongdoing, two top MSCS officials opt to leave their posts

One MSCS administrator retires, another resigns after complaint probe

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John Barker, deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance, retired from his post after being cleared in a probe of a complaint against him.

Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

John Barker, a Memphis-Shelby County Schools deputy superintendent who was on leave pending an investigation into a complaint against him, has retired from the district.

Additionally, the official who made the complaint, district human resources chief Yolanda Martin, has resigned in the wake of an investigation of a separate complaint against her last month.

The district announced the two moves in a press release late Friday. According to the release, the investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing by Barker or Martin. It said both were eligible to return to their jobs, but opted not to.

Barker, deputy superintendent for strategic operations and finance, “decided instead to retire from MSCS and pursue other opportunities,” the release read. “We accept his decision yet share our appreciation for his longstanding service to our school community in various roles, including Director of Research and Evaluation, Chief of Staff, and his position as Deputy Superintendent.”

Martin, the district said, “elected to pursue other professional endeavors,” noting her service as a teacher, assistant principal, instructional leadership director and human resources leader. 

“Her support and leadership will not soon be forgotten, and we wish her well with her next opportunity and beyond,” it said.

Barker was placed on paid leave in September as the district investigated an employee complaint against him. The employee turned out to be Martin, who, according to a letter obtained by The Commercial Appeal, said that she was subjected to ongoing harassment based on race and sex from Barker, whom she directly reported to.

The investigation into Martin began a month later. Martin told Chalkbeat she believed the nature of the complaint was retaliatory, but MSCS board chair Althea Greene said it wasn’t related to its probe of Barker

Another member of MSCS’ executive cabinet will take on Barker’s duties, according to the release, while MSCS has hired a new chief of human resources, Quintin Robinson, who is set to start on Nov. 28.

The investigations followed the departure in August of former Superintendent Joris Ray, who was himself under investigation into allegations that he abused his power and violated the district’s code of conduct.

The departure of two more district leaders comes in the midst of big challenges for MSCS, including academic recovery from the COVID pandemic, declining enrollment, teacher shortages, rising gun violence, and the search for Ray’s successor. The search is expected to run into next summer.

Samantha West contributed to this story.

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