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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mother of murdered daughter speaks out against Wright promotion

Mother of murdered daughter speaks out against Wright promotion

On June 21st 2011 a classmate murdered Kalil McCoy and everyday since has been June 21st for her mother and family.

Kalil McCoy attended Andrew Jackson high school. Kalil loved school and dance and the band at Jackson too. It was her life, even if it wasn't considered the best high school in town. She wanted to be there so badly that her family used a cousin’s address when they moved to the southside of town. Now I have heard of families using relative’s addresses before but always to attend a higher rated school never a lower rated one. During Kalil’s entire run at Jackson, the schools grade vacillated between a D and an F.

While at Jackson Kalil and her family didn’t have a lot of interaction with its principal Iranetta Wright but why would they, Kalil was considered to be a good student who never got in trouble and who always had a smile on her face. Her only real trouble came close to graduation when Wright insisted that she pay some band fees or she wouldn’t be able to walk at graduation.  The family’s next interaction with Wright would be even more painful. Make that their non-interaction.

Kalil graduated from high school on June 9th 2011 with her life was in front of her. Nobody knew at that moment the rest of her life would be just 12 days. Something like this isn’t supposed to happen to here in Jacksonville. It happens in New York City, Detroit or Chicago, not in the slow moving city on the river that flows north and when it does happen at first you don’t notice the little things. Little things sadly don’t always stay little.

Kalil’s mom Lynette Roebuck doesn’t know exactly when she realized it but she never heard from Iranetta Wright, the principal of Kalil’s favorite place in the world. Now she heard from the band director Reginald Mitchell as well as several other teachers and many friends but not the leader of the school that had seen Kalil sacrifice hundreds of afternoons and evenings putting in hard work. The snub really didn’t matter the first few months after the murder; the family was dealing with to many other things. It wasn’t until Mrs. Wright stopped a memorial for Kalil that the cold shoulder she had given the family really mattered.

The fall after Kalil’s murder during the Ribault Jackson football game, Band director Mitchell had organized a half time memorial for Kali. The Tiger Sensations, Kalil’s friends were going to perform some of Kalil’s favorite dances, a fitting memorial to a young woman who lived to dance. The one caveat that Mitchell asked was that nobody wore Kalil memorial shirts.

Kalil’s family showed up still somber, yet excited to see what the band had in store for them. Moments like these where others displayed their love for Kalil eased their pain. That’s why it hit them like a ton of bricks when they learned that the memorial had been canceled.

You see Mr. Mitchell hadn’t cleared the half time performance with his principal Iranetta Wright (who can often be seen gyrating and dancing on the sidelines of football games). It was pointed out that Mitchell never cleared his half time shows with Wright but that didn’t matter because Wright had put her foot down and teachers at her school knew better than to question her or get on her bad side. To say the cancellation of the memorial was devastating to Kalil's family would be an understatement. The family went home without the tribute that would have temporarily lifted their spirits. They left instead feeling marginalized, ignored and even disrespected. They had hoped the half time dance at the school she loved would have eased their pain even if just for a moment. They couldn’t understand why Iranetta Wright who had ignored the family since the murder had canceled it. 

Now Kalil’s family did eventually get a memorial, but it was Raines high school who came through with the help of several  Jackson Tiger sensations. Kalil's family will always be grateful for that. Yet, to this day they still have no cogent answer as to why Wright would cancel the memorial service at Jackson high school and why she would be so callous. 

When Mrs. Roebuck heard that Wright was up for a promotion she couldn’t believe it and contacted me to tell her story. Where above is horrible and insensitive, and there is no sugar coating it, it shouldn’t stop somebody from getting a promotion. Education is a result driven industry. Being compassionate has no place for those seeking to work their way up the ladder (apparently). And all who have commented about her agree that the upward trajectory of Wright’s career is her priority. Compassion: well... that’s for band directors who still check in on a grieving mother once a month or so even years after her daughters murder.

And since compassion didn’t get Wright the promotion, lets look at the data.

2012-13-?, District puts added resources into Jackson
2011-12-B, state makes scoring changes, grades across the state rise dramatically, and enrollment drops 500 kids from before she got there 
2010-11-F, the state ranked Jackson 404th out of 404 high schools
2009-10-D, some scores rise, some fall, 3 are lower from when she got there, 3 are higher
2008-09-F, every FCAT score dropped from the previous year, 

I have no idea why the superintendent saw fit to promote Iranetta Wright. In the Times Union Vitti said, Wright displays boldness and courage and she will make difficult decisions, perhaps like the decision to cancel a murdered girl’s memorial while her family was in the stands. “She’s moved the needle in each of the schools she’s been at. She represents the type of leader I’m looking for.”

I don’t know about her time at Lakeshore but at Jackson it took nearly half the student body leaving, a change in the scoring formula by the state and four years to move the needle. As for her leadership style it was described to me as autocratic. A former teacher and there are lots of former teachers from her tenure at Jackson, said; she would talk to the staff in a fashion that if we would talk to the kids that way we would get fired. Her motivation techniques consisted of threats and intimidation. Much of the veteran staff she inherited has moved onto other positions in the district or has left the teaching field all together replaced by “easily moldable” rookies who often don’t know that they shouldn’t be talked down to and forced to work sixty hours a week.

Some might say let Vitti succeed or fail with her but the thing is how many good men and women, teachers, principals and support staff, is she going to browbeat, cajole and demoralize on their way down? How many grieving mothers is she going to first ignore then disrespect?

I can’t speak about Mrs. Roebuck and her family’s pain, none of us can unless we have experienced the same thing but I can speak about the disappointment of this choice for promotion. When Vitti was hired many of us thought he was a breath of fresh air and where he has done a couple nice things increasingly he looks like more of the same. He has doubled down on Teach for America, which does the opposite of what we know to be best practices. He went to a conference, on the people’s dime, whose theme was how do we attract more charter schools to Florida and finally there are his choices to help lead the district. Teachers hoped he would pick people who would support and lead them, not ones who preferred to intimidate and cajole. A characteristic of great leaders is rigor--not ruthlessness.  I hope for the district’s sake they prove me wrong and I hope Kalil’s family finds peace too. I hope that the most.

On June 21st 2011 a classmate murdered Kalil McCoy and everyday since has been June 21st for her mother and family. Inexplicably and unnecessarily Iranetta Wright made their pain worse. 


  1. And I thought the principal at Mandarin Middle was callous. Ms. Wright wins the heartless prize.

  2. Very powerful anecdote, Chris.

  3. I don't know why you are surprised at how principals talk to teachers. This is how principals are told to address teachers now, in a disrespectful dismissive way as if your concerns are nothing. That's why you can't make your career your life someone will stomp on your heart to hurt you

  4. anonymous June, 2013

    I praise you for your courage and your truth for those otherwise to afraid to speak and share what has been going on for a long time, everyone knows it in the community, I thank you!

  5. Wow! Still relevant almost a decade later