Hunt exits as superintendent on a high note

There might not be a more difficult job than that of a schools superintendent, and in Robeson County it is even harder than most places because of our sheer size — 43 schools, more than 3,200 employees, 24,000 students and probably 36,000 parents involved with their children’s studies.

So not everyone is going to be happy with the person at the top of the organizational chart.

But Johnny Hunt, who is leaving this week after nine years leading the Public Schools of Robeson County, is being roundly applauded as someone who put the children first, did not bring along the baggage of a previous career in politics, and led the system to some measureable achievements — his nine-year tenure, three times as long as the average life of a superintendent, being one.

It is more impressive because Hunt, an educator who was chairman of the Board of Commissioners before becoming superintendent, began that job with a divided board, one that approved his hiring in a 6-5 vote. The public had become jaded because of previous superintendents they saw as products of a local good-old-boy system, and there was a skeptical media, including The Robesonian, which criticized his selection — not Hunt himself — in 2006 as the result of a search that had been fixed.

All that seems so long ago.

Hunt became the fifth superintendent of the merged county system, which was created by a referendum in 1988 that united the school systems but polarized people, largely by race. Two of the previous superintendents left under dark clouds, and a third exited to a shrug of everyone’s shoulders.

But Hunt, on July 1, 2006, began the task of mending fences with a mission of providing the best education possible for a system with limited finanical resources and a difficult demographic. He did so with unexpected success.

As Hunt leaves, he can point to a lower dropout rate, a graduation rate above the state average, improved test scores and increased teacher retention as achievements that can be put on a spread sheet.

As we noted in an Our View that we published soon after Hunt’s surprise announcement in February that he would retire, his greatest acheivement might be the one that is most difficult to measure — he took the bad news about the Public Schools of Robeson County off the front-page of this and other newspapers, replaced it with better and good news, and in doing so recaptured much of the public’s trust. He also provided stability to the system, which this year marked its 25th birthday.

This was done during difficult years budget-wise, when the state was reducing funding for local school systems, money that could not be replaced on a local level in cash-strapped Robeson County.

And we are aware of no evidence that politics polluted the system during Hunt’s tenure, especially regarding jobs.

Hunt will walk out of his office on Tuesday for a final time, taking with him almost four decades of experience as an educator in Robeson County, as well as 18 years of public service as a county commissioner. We wish him the best during his well-earned retirement.

The best compliment that we can think to extend is that he will be greatly missed.