LUMBERTON — The search for a new Robeson County superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County continues following a meeting Monday during which a large and animated crowd turned out in anticipation that one might be named.
The Board of Education issued a statement after more than an hour in closed session, about half of which was spent with Allison Schafer and her team from the North Carolina School Boards Association, saying no decision had been made. The association has helped with the search, which attracted 21 candidates deemed “qualified” and has been whittled through interviews to three or four in recent weeks.
“The board has unanimously agreed to regroup and continue the search,” said Grady Hunt, board attorney.
The board did take one piece of leadership action, voting 6-5 to elect Peggy Wilkins-Chavis chairman. Steve Martin nominated her for the leadership post.
Chavis’ ability to lead the board was questioned during the meeting’s public comment period.
Joshua Malcolm, an attorney and parent of a student in the system, asked the board not to make Chavis its chairman.
“There are many that do not desire Peggy Chavis as chairman because we, ma’am, we do not think you have the competency or the temperament,” Malcolm said.
Malcolm’s comments received sustained applause from the near-capacity audience. Chavis’ election was greeted with an audible sigh from the audience.
Gary Locklear, a former Superior Court judge, asked the board not to pick a superintendent based on race. Locklear also accused the board of “running off” the most qualified candidate for the job and referenced a Sunday editorial by The Robesonian, and handed copies of it to each board member.
“Why would any person in their right mind take a job as superintendent in this county when six people came into a meeting unannounced and fired a guy with 18 months to go on his contract?” Locklear said.
He was referring to a 6-5 decision by the board on Jan. 10 to fire Tommy Lowry as superintendent. Brian Freeman, Dwayne Smith, Martin, Randy Lawson, Wilkins-Chavis and Charles Bullard voted to fire Lowry, and they were a block in selecting Wilkins-Chavis as chairman. Voting in opposition to both actions were Mike Smith, Loistine DeFreece, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, Craig Lowry and John Campbell.
In January, Locklear and Malcolm represented two children from the Public Schools of Robeson County in a lawsuit attempting to reverse the hiring Virginia-based educator Thomas Graves as his replacement.
Under pressure and after it came to light that the board had violated its own hiring policy by not advertising the superintendent’s position, the board rescinded Graves’ appointment.
The Robesonian has been told by multiple sources that the superintendent’s job was offered to a candidate who did not accept it. The Robesonian knows the candidate’s name but has elected not to publish it.
Wilkins-Chavis blamed The Robesonian for running off a finalist, but did not name that person. The Robesonian published only the name of finalist Eric Bracey, now the superintendent of the Sampson County system. That happened only after Campbell went on Facebook and accused the six board members of refusing to hire Bracey because he is black. The Robesonian then published his name after having it for more than a week.
The Robesonian has been told Bracey withdrew his candidacy and that another finalist, also black, has been hired for another job.
Also during the meeting, interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten announced new assignments for principals and assistant principals. They are: Matthew Locklear of Pembroke Middle School moves to Lumberton High School as assistant principal; Jermaine Watson of Parkton Elementary moves to Carroll Middle as assistant principal; Joyce Brown of Red Springs Middle School moves to Littlefield Middle School as assistant principal; Leslie Harris of Purnell Swett High School will move to St. Pauls Elementary as an assistant principal; Tawanna Curry of Peterson Elementary moves to Green Grove Elementary as principal; Virginia Emanuel of Union Chapel moves to Robeson Early College High School as principal; Melinda Sellers of Carroll Middle School moves to Peterson Elementary as principal; Dacia Bullard of Green Grove Elementary moves to Magnolia Elementary as principal; and Antonio Wilkins of Magnolia Middle School moves to Union Chapel Elementary as principal.
Also on Monday, the board learned initial estimates have Robeson County’s allotment of state funding down because of the loss of about 300 students. Erica Setzer, district chief financial officer, stressed that the numbers are not finalized and that the state budget numbers were released Monday.
School attendance dropped considerably in the wake of Hurricane Matthew because hundreds of families were displaced and many have not returned. Exact numbers are not available.