If we were to assign a letter grade to the year that ends today, it would be an I, as in Incomplete.
So many of the stories that made huge headlines during 2017 are still being written, from Matthew, whose first page dates to Oct. 8, 2016, to the superintendency of the Public Schools of Robeson County, the battle over control of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School, to the effort to deliver enough natural gas to Robeson County to attract new industry and better jobs.
All of these stories will carry over into the new year, with most getting a period in 2018, except for Matthew, which will be part of our front page for years, and perhaps even decades.
2017 began with a faction of the school board ambushing schools Superintendent Tommy Lowry, who was trying to get the system back on its feet post-Matthew. The board then further embarrassed itself by breaking its own policy and trying to hire without advertising the job a Virginia educator most board members had not met or vetted, embarking on a failed superintendent search that highlighted the board’s division, and then handing the system over to an assistant superintendent. Shanita Wooten carries the burden of an interim label into 2018 and who knows what will happen when the school year ends.
The school board’s ineffectiveness was highlighted again in the fall, when the state decided to make Southside-Ashpole Elementary School — one of 27 low-performing schools in the county — the first and only school out of 2,600 in North Carolina for inclusion in the Innovative School District, a new program designed to provide a life raft for students in drowning schools.
The school board puffed up, but was exposed as being hot air, and as the new year begins its options are to either close the school or surrender it. The white flag will go up on Jan. 9 — and a couple of hundred students at Southside will have hope with the arrival of the 2018-19 school year.
It should not be long into 2018 that a decision will come on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which needs only a few more permits before construction can begin.
Proponents say the $5 billion, 600-mile pipeline could be an economic savior for Robeson County and other struggling communities along the route, but those in opposition say it is unnecessary, an environmental hazard and that private entities should not be able to bully landowners for access to their land.
Lumberton residents, especially those on the east side, are hoping that 2018 will bring some good news concerning the deaths of three women whose decomposing bodies were found in April and June. There was fear that a serial killer was on the prowl, but no real evidence to support that, and when the state Medical Examiner’s Office gets around to providing a cause of death, our money is on drug overdoses. But the questions will linger as to who dumped the bodies where they were found — and why.
The biggest incomplete is the recovery from Hurricane Matthew, although much was accomplished during 2017 as millions of dollars flooded in and faith-based group demonstrated the best of humanity by not only arriving to help, but promising to hang around for a while. Matthew has forever changed the landscape in Lumberton, where once vibrant neighborhoods have been abandoned, and are unlikely to ever again be inhabited.
Together all of these are a mixed bag, but there was definite good news, the crowning of Victoria Huggins as Miss North Carolina, BB&T’s decision to give pay hikes and bonuses to hundreds of employees who live and work in Robeson, and, selfishly, this newspaper’s return to 2175 Roberts Ave.
We hope for more good news in 2018, for all of you and Robeson County.