Wooten needs freedom to lead school system


There is something karma like about the fact that those members of the Board of Education who worked to block the hiring of an immensely qualified superintendent because he wasn’t a white male are now stuck for a least a year with a black female leading the system.

And if you doubt that happened, then ask any of The Six why they preferred a Rockingham educator with no significant administrative experience over someone with eight years experience as superintendent and a Superintendent of the Year award hanging on his office wall. We did — and the response was laughable.

But the situation is not funny.

For the second time since the summer of 2015, the school board has ended a time-consuming and costly search for a superintendent with the top candidates fleeing because of actions of a few board members, and then the hiring of a local administrator.

In 2015, Tommy Lowry, then an assistant superintendent, had not applied for the position, and had to be strong-armed into accepting it. Our guess is he regrets it.

We don’t know if Shanita Wooten, the interim superintendent since Lowry was fired and the now schools chief through the end of the school year, applied for the position or not. But we know she was not among the finalists if she did.

That is not to say she can’t do the job — should she be allowed to perform it, which we question.

Wooten’s resume hits a lot of the right bullet points, both in terms of education and experience. She is a product of the local system, and sees that as a benefit, not baggage, but that is always tricky.

She received a unanimous vote of the board last week, but we are sure that was more for public consumption, and not the true sentiment of the board. The local school board has been beaten up hard, not just by this newspaper, but by the communitity, including key entities, and the joining of hands was a necessary symbolic gesture that so often appears too difficult for this board. This time what is a very low bar was cleared.

The question is: Will this board actually allow Wooten to administer the system, or will its members continue their meddling?

Chairman Peggy Wilkins-Chavis for once said the right thing.

“She is doing a great job,” she said. “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.”

Words are our business, but when it comes to this school board we feel like they are almost exhausted. Way too many of these school board members have no idea their true purpose on the board, which is elementary: To establish policy that best enables administrators to move the system in a positive direction.

It is not to push an agenda to their own benefit or that of their cronies.

We hope that the board provides Wooten the opportunity to sink or swim based on her own abilities, but history suggests that will not happen.

Four seats are up for re-election in the 2018 primary, and one of those board members, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, has suggested publicly that she might not run again. Two of them, Wilkins-Chavis and Dwayne Smith, have been key architects of this mess that Wooten has been charged with cleaning up so the public will have a chance to either endorse their actions or send them packing.

The fourth, Mike Smith, has been on the board a long time, but probably more than anyone else on the board has the ability to work with those who disagree with him.

It looks like an interesting year. A dull one, however, might be best.

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