Wisconsin school district releases tape of Black superintendent’s comments that led to resignation

Feb 21, 2024, 3:16 PM | Updated: 4:56 pm

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay school district on Wednesday released the recording of its first Black superintendent’s appearance on an Atlanta radio show in which he made blunt comments about race relations, criticized the community and derided one of the district’s principals.

Claude Tiller Jr. resigned on Saturday after a closed-door meeting with school board members.

On the recording, he is caught during a break from speaking on air during a WAOK-AM radio interview on Feb. 6 referring to a female principal as a “wicked witch” and using a disparaging slang word to describe her. Tiller was in Atlanta on a teacher recruiting trip.

During one of the breaks, the show’s host refers to Green Bay as “about as lily white as I have ever seen.”

Tiller responds, “The lily on top of the lily.”

Green Bay, a city of about 100,000 people in northeastern Wisconsin, is about 72% white, according to U.S. Census data released in July 2023. People who identify as Black make up about 4.2% of the population.

The entire interview, including conversations Tiller had with the host during breaks, was livestreamed on Facebook. The host informed Tiller that his appearance would be streamed.

During the interview, Tiller was asked about his conversations with mostly white teachers.

“I’m a bald head man and I wear bow ties,” Tiller said. “So first all, they think that I’m a Muslim. They think I like to fix bean pies. And that’s furthest from the truth. So I have to go debunking some microaggressions before I even go into. They think majority of us we like fried chicken and watermelon. I prefer my chicken baked.” He added that, as “a bald head black man with a bow tie, they get my passion confused with anger.”

Tiller’s comments about bow ties and bean pies were a reference to the Nation of Islam, a Black nationalist movement with roots in Detroit whose male followers often wear distinctive red bowties. Followers also often consume and sell food made from navy beans, including pies, which are promoted as healthy.

Tiller didn’t respond to a phone message left by The Associated Press on Wednesday evening. In a statement he issued following his resignation, he said his remarks during the interview were “specifically directed toward the broader systemic issues within public education that contribute to ongoing challenges.”

He added that he offered his perspective “with candor, anchoring my narrative in both my professional insights and personal experiences as an educational leader of color.”

“Simply put, I spoke my truth.”

The school district board’s president, Laura McCoy, didn’t respond to a phone message on Wednesday evening. Board Vice President James Lyerly declined to comment, saying Tiller’s resignation was “a human resources matter.”

Tiller became superintendent in Green Bay in July. He had previously served as an assistant superintendent over high school transformation with the Detroit Public Schools Community District, according to a biography on the Green Bay school district’s website.

During one break he told the host that “mindset in Green Bay, Black and brown folks, it’s almost like stepping back in time. They don’t even realize it til I came along and I have people coming up to me crying saying ‘don’t leave’ because I’m giving voice to the voiceless.”

At another point during the interview, he said he applied for the job only at his wife’s urging, thinking that “no all white board is going to choose an African American male.”


Associated Press writer Kathleen Foody in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Wisconsin school district releases tape of Black superintendent’s comments that led to resignation