Archived Story

Help is a phone call away

Published 9:34am Saturday, March 26, 2011

It has not been unusual for the Bertie County Board of Education to have disagreements.

The five-member board is made up of people who have their own beliefs, their own background and their own constituency. That means each of them have different ideas about the education process and many other areas they deal with.

That was obvious last week when three board members overruled the objections of the other two and carried on with the hiring of a new Superintendent of Schools.

Chairwoman Gloria Lee said the majority was not willing to go back through the process when they felt the person they were hiring – Hertford County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins – was more than qualified for the post.

Alton Parker didn’t agree that the new school boss met the qualifications and Rickey Freeman objected to a variety of issues with the contract Dr. Harris-Rollins was given.

There have been major shakeups in the school district on multiple occasions in the last several years.  That includes the firing of one superintendent and the forced resignation of another.

Into that midst came Dr. Will Crawford, who has served as Interim Superintendent for seven months. It has been a difficult seven months by any account as the school district was all but broke when he arrived and there were numerous people who objected to the previous superintendent’s ouster.

Now, Dr. Harris-Rollins will try to pick up from the strides made by Dr. Crawford to rectify a bad situation.

Many years ago, I said that Larry Cooper took over the worst situation of any high school in North Carolina when he became Principal of Hertford County High School the first time.

What Cooper faced is similar to what Dr. Harris-Rollins will face now – a mountain to climb that has many treacherous steps along the way.

Consider:

  • The school board is divided and likely not just the 3-2 vote you have seen lately since the group has voted with varying degrees of a split since December of 2008.
  • The school system is facing a budget shortfall slightly less than $2 million for the next academic year because of budget cuts from the state.
  • A new Bertie High School is desperately needed and the school board and Bertie County Commissioners are working together to try to solve this dilemma, but cost estimates are well over $20 million.
  • One of the most successful and tenured principals in the county will retire June 30 after resurrecting a high school that had been left for dead.
  • A Reduction In Force (RIF) policy has been adopted by the school district and there could be as many as 20 positions cut from the system.

These tasks and the many, many others that face Dr. Harris-Rollins could be tough for the most experienced of superintendents, much less someone who will be leading a district for the first time.

That doesn’t mean Dr. Harris-Rollins can’t be successful. My dealings with her over the last several years have led me to know her as a smart, professional woman who cares most about the children in the classrooms and their teachers.

Those traits will be important for her in the coming days, weeks and months of taking over the Bertie County Schools. She is taking over one of the worst situations in North Carolina and some advice from someone who has been in a smaller version of the same problem wouldn’t hurt.

It may do her well to give Larry Cooper a telephone call.

Thadd White is a Staff Writer and Sports Editor for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached via email at thadd.white@r-cnews.com or by telephone at 332-7211.

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