Graves among 21 applicants for superintendent’s job

By Mike Gellatly -

Allison Schafer

Thomas Graves

LUMBERTON — The state group that is assisting the Public Schools of Robeson County with its search for a new schools superintendent has received 21 applications for the job.

Allison Schafer, director of policy for the North Carolina School Board Association, said the names of those who have applied are not to be made public, but The Robesonian knows one is a Virginia educator who expressed interest in January, and was the pick of a majority of the board at that time.

The superintendent position was vacated at the board’s Jan. 10 meeting when members Charles Bullard, Dwayne Smith, Randy Lawson, Brian Freeman, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis and Steve Martin voted to oust Tommy Lowry from the position and buy out his $180,000 contract. The contract was through Jan. 30, 2018.

The six then voted to hire Thomas Graves to the position, though many had never met or spoken with him.

It was determined that the move to hire Graves violated the board’s own policy requiring the position be advertised. Under threat of a lawsuit from children within the district and accusations that members had violated open meetings law, the hiring of Graves was rescinded by a unanimous vote at a Jan. 17 meeting.

In February, the board invited Schafer and her team assist with the search for the next superintendent, which it has done on several previous searches. At the board’s Feb. 21 meeting, the state board outlined a six-month search that should have the candidate in office Aug. 1.

The initial phase of that process, the advertising for qualified candidates and submission of applications, concluded April 17. Over the course of the next month, candidates will be evaluated and the state board will confer with Robeson County school board members over scheduling a first round of interviews.

In February, some board members expressed a desire to have the state board independently run the search and return with a short list of three to five candidates. However, Schafer said that her body does not recommend candidates, rather it seeks them out using criteria established by the school board.

“The honest truth is, it is by law, the board of education’s decision to be made,” Schafer said

In June, a final round of interviews will take place, according to Schafer’s timeline.

The timeline is to have the supertendent named by July 1.

Graves told The Robesonian last week that he has applied for the position and is looking forward to being back in Robeson County.

“Certainly,” Graves said when asked if he had applied. “My heart is in Robeson County.”

Graves was brought to the attention of several board members by Ben Chavis, who gained fame for his work improving educational standards at American Indian Charter Schools in Oakland. Graves met Chavis while he was working in New Mexico. Chavis, after seeing Graves work, recommended him to board members.

Chavis is now facing federal money laundering and mail fraud charges related to operating those institutions.

“All I can say is, I don’t know Ben well enough to know about his real estate dealings,” Graves said. “But I know he is one of the best educators in the nation.”

Graves describes himself as a “school improvement specialist.” He has relocated to several positions around the country in an effort to improve standards at failing schools. He is noted as a strict disciplinarian.

Allison Schafer Schafer

Thomas Graves Graves

By Mike Gellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

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