Schools move toward new school year without leadership

We are three weeks and a day away from the return of almost 24,000 Robeson County students to the first day of classes and a new school year, and the local system remains devoid of leadership, not only on our Board of Education but at the central office.

That is not intended as a knock on interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten, whom we have been told is stepping up to the assignment. But there is nothing empowering about the term interim, or the fact that her gig could end as early as Tuesday when the board meets again, perhaps to hire a more permanent replacement. She is being asked to drive while not being given the steering wheel.

The lack of leadership on the school board, which remains stuck at 6-5, we hardly need to recall here. Its members continue to fully depress the accelerator even as the cliff gets near.

It was apparent again recently when board Chairman Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, an American Indian who represents Saddletree, decided to tab five white men from the Board of Education to serve as committee chairmen. Under the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category is the naming of Dwayne Smith as the chairman of the Policy Committee, the same board member who defended the board’s failed hiring of a superintendent in violation of school policy requiring the position be advertised by dismissively saying the board breaks policy “all the time.”

For those who would lecture us on how race doesn’t matter, close your eyes and consider if a minority board member had appointed only people of color as committee chairmen. Remember as well that these five chairmen not only are white and male, but they are Lumberton-centric, hardly representing all the corners of the most diverse and largest county in North Carolina.

We don’t care the color of the next superintendent, although it is clear that some board members, both with The Six and The Five, do. But our school board is plenty diverse, and the committee chairmen as a group should reflect that.

The good news is Wilkins-Chavis is up for re-election next year, so this might be her parting shot at Saddletree. Or she could just be that blissfully ignorant, and believes no one will notice her payback for those who supported her chairmanship. Charles Bullard must be miffed.

More importantly is what happens — or doesn’t — on Tuesday, when Allison Schafer, the North Carolina School Boards Association representative who is assisting with its search for a superintendent, is scheduled to meet the school board. We have been told that Schafer is trying to coax a retired superintendent to lead the system, perhaps for a year or until a second search might attract a new list of qualified candidates, but it’s unclear if she has had any luck.

If a retired superintendent wants to hang around with children, why not pick grandchildren and the beach over some of our childish school board members and a board room?

It was 208 days ago that The Six on the school board decided to fire Tommy Lowry, which was certainly within their power to do. But a good idea when taking such a step, especially when the school system was trying to regain its footing following Hurricane Matthew, is to know the next step, and the aborted attempt to hire a Virginia educator who had been knighted privately by someone with an ax to grind, was hastily and clumsily done and never had a chance of sticking.

Those Six then proceeded to sabotage the potential hiring of an extraordinary qualified superintendent for the system, apparently because he wasn’t a white male.

This entire fiasco remains on Wilkins-Chavis, Dwayne Smith, Brian Freeman, Randy Lawson, Steve Martin and Bullard. So far they have shown themselves far more adept at making a mess than cleaning one up.