LUMBERTON — “Spiteful,” “very sad” and “disappointing” were words being used to describe the inaction of five members of the Board of Education who prevented that board from honoring a veteran educator and former superintendent on Tuesday night.
Five board members voted Tuesday evening to take action on a resolution honoring Tommy Lowry, whose 38.5-year career as a local educator ended on Jan. 10 when he was fired by the school board with 18 months left on his contract. However, five other board members did not raise their hands, and another had left the meeting early.
According to the school system’s policy, eight votes are needed to move an item that is on the agenda as an information item for the first time to be voted on. That was the case on Tuesday.
“I don’t see it, I don’t understand the logic of why it wouldn’t pass. It’s just a gesture,” said Mike Smith, who voted for the resolution. “It is kind of spiteful … mean spirited.”
Also voting in favor of the resolution were Chairman Loistine Defreece, John Campbell, Craig Lowry and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee. Dwayne Smith, Steve Martin, Randy Lawson, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis and Brian Freeman did not vote. Charles Bullard was absent by the time the vote was taken.
The Kiwanas Club of Pembroke wanted the board to pass the resolution, which was to be presented to Lowry at the upcoming Lumbee Homecoming. Lowry is being honored during the club’s 5-K race on July 8. Faline Locklear Dial, a club member and chairman of the race, said the Kiwanis will honor Lowry as planned, and hope to present him with resolutions approved by other local government boards.
From 1978 through 2017 Lowry taught and was an administrator in the Robeson County public schools system. The resolution vote mirrored the termination vote, with the exception of Bullard. After he was fired in January, the six board members who voted for his termination tried to hire a Virginia educator, but that effort failed because they were found to have violated board policy requiring the position to be advertised. The school board is not trying to hire a superintendent, with interviews scheduled for Saturday.
Board members who did not vote for the resolution say the gesture was not necessary and that Lowry skipped out on his opportunity to be recognized by the public schools.
“He had the opportunity to retire and we had a plaque for him. The public schools did their part,” Dwayne Smith said. “He had his opportunity and he chose not to come. Why should we bend over backwards?”
A retirement dinner was held to honor all of the district’s departing staff and Lowry was invited to attend but did not, Smith said.
Peggy Wilkins-Chavis feels the dinner was enough recognition.
“He had his night, he had his retirement,” Wilkins-Chavis said. “He didn’t even attend his own retirement. I taught school for 38 years, I didn’t get a resolution.”
But Craig Lowry disagrees.
“It’s just very unfortunate that we have a man that served this district and that we can’t pass a resolution,” he said. “That’s very sad and disappointing.”
The resolution not only talked of Tommy Lowry as an educator, but also praised his efforts to help victims of Hurricane Matthew.
“As superintendent, his leadership skills were exhibited through his heroic efforts following the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew,” the resolution reads. “Mr. Lowry joined the Emergency Operations Team to head up efforts to set up four shelters in schools for evacuated flood victims.”
The resolution ended by saying the Board of Education wanted to “extend to Mr. Lowry best wishes for many years of good health and happiness during retirement and all future endeavors.”
Lowry began his career in the Public Schools of Robeson County in 1978. He was a teacher at Piney Grove Elementary School for four years. He spent 20 years teaching mathematics and physical education at Orrum and then Purnell Swett High schools.
His career as as administrator began at Purnell Swett, where he was an assistant principal. He then transferred to Pembroke Middle School. In 2001, Lowry became the principal of Deep Branch Elementary, where he spent four years before returning to Pembroke Middle to serve as its principal.
After being principal at Pembroke Middle for three years, Lowry was named assistant superintendent for instructional support in 2008. Lowry was named superintendent in 2015 in a split vote after the person the board was poised to hire withdrew his name after being publicly criticized by a member of the school board. Lowry had not even applied for the position.
The Robesonian made repeated attempts to contact Freeman, Lawson and Martin to ask them why they did not vote in favor of the resolution, but none of them returned phone calls. The newspaper also attempted to reach Loistine Defreece, chairman of the board, to see if the matter might be brought again to a vote in a future board meeting, but she could not be reached.
A subsequent vote would need only a majority for approval.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly