LUMBERTON — Shanita Wooten says she is ready to lead the Public Schools of Robeson County, even if it turns out to be for a single school year.
“I am excited for the opportunity to serve the students, staff and communities across Robeson County,” said Wooten.
She has served as interim superintendent since the school board fired Tommy Lowry on Jan. 10. That same board removed the interim status on Tuesday, doing so after a search failed to find a candidate that the board could agree on.
The former assistant superintendent says she is qualified for the job.
“A combination of professional studies, different roles in education, knowledge of our county/region, hands-on experiences and personal core values will assist me as I work diligently, with my colleagues, to move the district forward,” she said. “I feel my time as a program coordinator, teacher, assistant principal, principal, and senior-level administrator have all prepared me for this position.”
Wooten was the recipient of a unanimous vote on Tuesday. The same school board had been split 6-5 recently on many key issues. The vote came after a lengthy closed session, during which the board considered its options concerning the superintendent’s position.
“She is doing a great job,” said Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, school board chairman. “We told her that she has the steering wheel. Drive and go do anything you think needs to be done to move the system forward. We have been stuck on one page.”
Wooten has grown into the superintendent’s role, she said.
Wilkins-Chavis said it would have been an injustice to a retired superintendent, the county, and children in the school system if the board hired someone from the outside who is not familiar with local hurricane recovery efforts. The school board reportedly considered hiring a retired superintendent to guide the system through the school year.
Wooten has a doctorate and a master’s degree in the field of education from Wingate University, coupled with an educational specialist degree at Wingate. Wooten also holds a master’s degree in school administration from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a master’s of public health in community health education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She earned a bachelor’s of science in Biology from North Carolina A&T.
She has worked as a teacher, principal and district-level administrator for the Public Schools of Robeson County dating back to 2007.
“I first told my staff and students at Rowland Middle School that I had aspirations of becoming a superintendent,” Wooten said. “I began working on my educational specialist degree during my tenure as principal. That led me down the path of obtaining my superintendent’s license. I have shown an interest and expressed a strong desire to become a superintendent since receiving my superintendent’s license in December 2014.”
Wooten’s ties to the county’s public schools reach back beyond her work with the local district.
“I am a product of the Public Schools of Robeson County,” Wooten said. “I have the best interest of the Public Schools of Robeson County in mind. I have a vision for the district and I want the best for us all.”
She inherits a school system that traditionally is on the wrong end of most education metrics, with the exception being the graduation rate.
The task before her is “daunting,” she said. But she pledged to work hard every day to improve the lives of the district’s students.
“It will require all stakeholders coming together to address serious issues that pose significant challenges to our local educational system,” Wooten said. “My goal has consistently been to empower students to be autonomous thinkers and socially responsible citizens who are ready to meet the challenges of an ever-challenging global community.”
Wooten envisions reorganizing central office departments to improve effectiveness and operations. It is unclear if her position as an assistant superintendent will be filled.
“We must use a collaborative approach that focuses significantly on the transformation of our school system,” she said. “We will consider how to allocate the financial and human resources of the district in order to achieve the best results. I will remain cognizant of all the competing demands that we face and pledge to do what is best for all students.”
The job became vacant when a split board fired Lowry and then moved to hire a Virginia educator, an effort that failed when it was learned the board violated its own policy by not advertising the position. A search followed, but the board was unable to agree on a candidate, with some member apparently favoring a Rockingham County educator and another the current superintendent of the Sampson County school system.
Both candidates then withdrew their names.
T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974.