LUMBERTON — School board members sat quietly Tuesday as they were scolded by the chairman of the Southeastern Healthcare board of trustees and others.
Among the people blasting the board and other Public Schools of Robeson County leaders for the way they carry themselves and for their actions were two students from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“You are making it harder than it should be to recruit businesses and good workers,” said Kenneth Rust,chairman of the Southeastern Healthcare board, local businessman and owner of several restaurants.
That happened before the board emerged from a lengthy closed session and announced that Shanita Wooten, the interim superintendent, would continue in that role throughout the school year and until June 2018. She was named interim superintendent after Tommy Lowry’s contract was bought out on Jan. 10 and the board was unable to successfully hire a superintendent following a search.
Rust expressed his lack of confidence in the board, saying Robeson County is a “great community” in which to live and work but suffers an image problem because of the school system.
“We have a great community. We have a great workforce,” he said. “You can get a good education here.”
But, when someone interested in coming to the area performs an Internet search to find out about the quality of education, they never get to the positive facts about what the public schools offer because they are overshadowed by negative accounts of activity by school board members, Rust said.
Dajer Fernandez, the 2017-18 UNCP student body president, and Andrew Yarborough, a senior history and political science major at the university, told board members that they are concerned about the message that is being sent to the region’s young people. Each emphasized that school board’s actions are not in the best interest of students.
“The future of our schools lies in your hands,” Yarborough, a graduate of county school system, said. “There needs to be leadership, and that appears to be lacking. Innovation, progress, and leadership is what we need.”
Fernandez told the board members that what they do affects young people’s lives forever. He wants to see a unified school board. The school board has split 6-5 on a number of key votes in recent months.
“You have an economic impact. You have a social impact,” he said. “Your actions can negatively affect … students at UNCP.”
During the meeting Tuesday, which was held at Lumberton City Hall, Allison Schafer, an attorney with the North Carolina School Boards Association, presented the board with a list of leadership training opportunities, a list the board had requested earlier this year.
“A lot of boards do this kind of training,” Schafer said. “It’s the way they learn to make decisions as a group.”
Schafer, who has been assisting the board in their search for a new superintendent, went into a closed session with board members. The board emerged from the closed session shortly after 11 a.m. and announced Wooten would continue as interim superintendent.
Schafer told The Robesonian just before the closed session started that she did not think the board would choose a new superintendent Tuesday.
“We’re discussing some things, but I don’t think there will be any action taken tonight,” she said. “At least it won’t be my recommendation that a superintendent be hired and an announcement made. It is usually our (association’s) recommendation that any announcement of this kind be made at a special meeting. That way people come out and meet the new superintendent.”
The board also announced that Bobby Locklear, director of accountability for the system, would serve as the interim administrator for the Early College, which already has begun classes at Robeson Community College. Shelia Gasque retired as principal June 30.
In other business, the school board:
— Recognized Virginia Emanuel, principal at Union Chapel Elementary School, as the district’s Certified Employee of the Month. Emanuel’s career as a teacher, assistant principal and principal has spanned more than 50 years.
— Heard an update on the “Back to School” celebration held Thursday at the Southeast North Carolina Agricultural Events Center. More than 20,000 people showed up at the event to pick up free school supplies.
— Approved an updated school district attendance policy.
— Approved a grade suppression policy. Under the policy certain eligible students can retake a course in which they did poorly. If they get a better grade the second time around, the first grade is suppressed and the student receives the second grade as the final grade for that course.
— Heard a report from Raymond Cummings, the school district’s Transportation director. Cummings said money is needed to purchase a new wrecker to haul heavy-weight buses. He also said two pumps that were flooded during Hurricane Matthew need to be replaced.
The board’s Finance Committee is considering the issue.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.