Akron Public Schools board member N.J. Akbar to resign next month
Akron Public Schools board member N.J. Akbar announced Monday night he will resign from the board and his administrative job at Kent State University.
Akbar is in the last year of his first term on the board. He served as board president for two years, in 2021 and 2022, and as vice president in his first year on the board in 2020.
Akbar said he was resigning to accept a job that will not allow him to hold public office. He will remain in Akron.
"I really did not come to this lightly as I love APS," Akbar said.
Akbar is an associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion for Kent State University. He confirmed following his announcement about leaving the APS board that he will also resign from Kent.
He said he will be the national chief of equity for a non-profit social justice organization, but he did not identify the organization.
As an industry professional, Akbar pushed the district on issues of equity in operations and academics, forming an equity committee of the board and creating a new chief-level position to oversee the efforts. He didn't back down from offering differing perspectives, and encouraged other board members to do the same.
But under his leadership, community leaders on several occasions raised concerns the board was overly involved in the day-to-day operation of the school district and didn't understand the role of a school board. Many of those same leaders issued further criticism of Akbar for language he used in former superintendent Christine Fowler Mack's evaluation.
Akbar, along with board President Derrick Hall and member Valerie McKitrick, was going to be up for reelection this fall. He said his last day will be April 10, and he will be present for that meeting, which will likely include votes on major facilities plans for the district.
Akbar, McKitrick and Hall joined the board just two months before the start of the pandemic, which forced the board to deal with overseeing the closure of schools, the move to online learning and the ultimate decision to reopen schools. Akron students remained in online learning for a full year, along with most large districts in Ohio.
In announcing his departure Monday, Akbar said he believed board members should be the kind of leaders they wish their school boards had when they were students. Akbar, who grew up in Detroit, noted how his own future was made possible by a teacher.
"I was the young man who couldn't read when I got into the third grade, and I had a teacher who sat me down and told me that I could learn to read," Akbar said. "And she spent extra time and hours with me and got me connected to a speech pathologist and special ed. And it really was what helped me climb out of the situation that I was in, and I can stand before you, or sit before you, today as Dr. Akbar because I had that teacher invest in me."
Akbar highlighted several accomplishments of the board and the district during his time in leadership, from dealing with the pandemic to pushing for increased pay for employees in the district. He also touted the board's racial equity policy, an initiative he spearheaded, a policy allowing staff and students to use their chosen names and pronouns, and development of the district's "AdvanceAPS" strategic plan.
"I'm very proud of the legacy and record that I'm going to be leaving behind," he said, noting he was most proud of the push for a living wage for the district's lowest-paid employees.
But Akbar also took significant heat during his tenure for the board's first and ultimately only evaluation of Fowler Mack, particularly for his own words. Community leaders pushed back on Akbar's use of language, as he called her "insubordinate" and labeled her first year "a failure." He also commented on her body language and said she should attend seminars on equity "if she is actually open to learning" because she didn't understand the topic.
Akbar said afterward he had regret for his choice of words but also that a "personnel matter" became public, despite superintendent evaluations being public record.
Hall took over as president in January. The board and Fowler Mack parted ways last month.
Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: N.J. Akbar to resign from Akron Public Schools board