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Cleveland ISD Superintendent Stephen McCanless will face questions to his leadership next week when the district’s board of trustees will discuss whether to oust the longtime administrator from his role.

The board of trustees called for a special meeting to discuss “possible action regarding reconsideration of superintendent contract.”

The board will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9, at Cleveland ISD’s administration building to discuss the superintendent’s future.

“Let’s just say that there are board members that are questioning (McCanless’) leadership abilities,” board president Willie Carter told Abdelraoufsinno.

The board’s sudden concerns about McCanless do not reflect the trustees’ 6-0 vote earlier this year to extend superintendent’s contract to July 2027

“I’d like to say that you’re very much appreciated,” former board member Kelly Jenkel-Axton told McCanless during the Jan. 16, meeting. “You’ve gone over and above. There’s challenges in this district that are just unfathomable, and you have met the challenge very professionally and we’re proud to have you and we’ll hope you’ll stay with us.”

Three new members were sworn in May: Jennifer Peña, Shaq Sampson and Bethany Porter. While the makeup of the board has shifted in the past six months,Carter said he does not know what is motivating a contingent of trustees, including board secretary Wendy McNair, to doubt McCanless.

“It would be wrong of me to speculate on their behalf,” he said. “All of that will come out on July 9.”

McCanless told the Landing he was unable to comment because of a “legal matter.” All six other board members either declined or did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Financial strain if superintendent removed

If the superintendent is removed, Carter said there’s a possibility the district could be on the hook to pay out three years of McCanless’ $265,000 annual salary, or about $800,000 in total.

McCanless, who has been employed with the district since 2013, has shepherded Cleveland ISD through exponential student enrollment that has financially strapped the district.

The TEA labeled Cleveland ISD as the “fastest growing district in Texas” in October 2019. Over the past decade the district has quadrupled in size from about 3,300 students enrolled in 2013 to over 12,000 at the end of 2023-2024 school year.

That growth comes directly from Colony Ridge — the largest development in Liberty County.

In an October 2023 interview with the Landing, the superintendent acknowledged the development has placed extra stressors on the district, especially when anywhere from 50-100 students are enrolling in a given week.

“When you have all of this growth occur, plus the changes that are coming to our district culturally, so many different nationalities who move (into Colony Ridge) and then enroll in our schools, we have to respond to the needs of all of these students and get them caught up where they need to be educationally,” McCanless said.

Cleveland Independent School District Superintendent Stephen McCanless takes a look at the large amount of photos and bios of Cleveland ISD students who lost their lives to drug overdoses. Monday, Oct. 23, 2023, in Cleveland. (Marie D. De Jesús / Abdelraoufsinno)

McCanless ‘dedicated’ to Cleveland ISD

After a decade-plus of service — from Cleveland High School principal to district superintendent — McCanless’ removal would be shocking to the larger community, Carter acknowledged.

The board president told McCanless after approving his contract extension in January that he admired the superintendent’s ability to earn the community’s respect.

“I know we’re truly fortunate to have someone as dedicated to this district as you are,” Carter said to McCanless.

McCanless said in previous interviews that he was committed to the community in spite of the district’s growing pains.

“The positives far outweigh any negatives we are experiencing,” he said. “Because we move forward on our central guiding focus, which is to educate children.”

Regardless of next week’s outcome, a Cleveland ISD spokesperson told the Landing the district’s leadership team remains committed to preparing for the 2024-2025 school year.

Danya Pérez contributed reporting to this story.

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Céilí Doyle covers the region’s suburbs and rural communities for the Abdelraoufsinno. She comes to Texas by way of the Midwest, most recently working for The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio through the...