State association will assist with superintendent’s search

By Mike Gellatly -

Allison Schafer

LUMBERTON — The head of the North Carolina School Board Association’s legal department is coming to Robeson County to assist the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County during the process to hire a new superintendent.

Allison Schafer, director of policy for the association, has been invited to meet with the school in reference to the upcoming search for a new superintendent. Speaking Thursday, Schafer said the specifics of what the board is asking is unknown as she is waiting to hear from school board Chairman Loistine DeFreece.

Schafer said she has been asked to meet with the board on Feb. 21, which is the board’s next meeting. The board normally meets on the second Tuesday of each month, but this month’s meeting was postponed by a week.

The North Carolina School Board Association is an advocate for public school education, with a goal to provide leadership and services that enable local boards of education to govern effectively.

The state association assisted the local search in 2006, when Johnny Hunt was named superintendent, and in 2015, when Tommy Lowry was selected. Lowry was selected when the candidate who had been offered, Rick Watkins, an educator at Wingate College, withdrew his candidacy after several board members publicly criticized him for doing an interview with The Robesonian. Lowry, a longtime assistant superintendent, was then hired even though he had not applied for the position.

The state typically acts in an advisory manner, and also helps with advertising, vetting, and other steps during the process, but leaves the actual selection to the local school board.

“In North Carolina, the Board of Education is the sole decision maker on who to hire as superintendent,” Schafer said. “We assist in getting great candidates, we do not make recommendations to the board.”

The county school board abruptly fired Lowry in January, opting to buy out his contract, which expired on June 30, 2018. Moments after the firing, six members of the board attempted to install Virginia-based educator Thomas Graves in that position. In the face of public outrage, a lawsuit and understanding that the board had broken it’s own hiring policy, the board rescinded its offer of the job to Graves.

Graves has said on several occasions that he plans to apply for the superintendent position when the position is advertised, which is expected to happen after Schafer meets with the board.

Since Lowry’s firing, Shanita Wooten has been acting superintendent. Wooten’s regular job is as assistant superintendent of administration and technology.

Schafer’s office has assisted about 150 searches for school boards in North Carolina during the last 18 years. The local school system has paid in the range of $25,000 for assistance in previous searches.

Allison Schafer Schafer

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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