Archived Story

Back to the future

Published 9:50am Monday, June 25, 2012

Before I get started, no one asked me.

That’s never stopped me from giving my opinion anyway though, so here goes.

Bertie County Schools will soon begin their search for yet another superintendent. I’ve given some thought to the kind of person they need as the school board begins deliberations about hiring a new leader.

I think they need a combination of the attributes that have been available in the recent holders of the office. If you were able to combine some of the best attributes of the recent superintendents you could easily come up with the best person for the job.

I’ll begin with the current superintendent, who is retiring after just over a year on the job and work backwards.

As the board looks for a new superintendent, I think they should look for someone with the grace and dignity of Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins. During her time, she has been assailed from all sides, but has never let it make her act any other way but dignified and elegant.

Although he was an interim superintendent, I’ll add the no nonsense attitude of former district leader Dr. Will Crawford. During his tenure, Bertie County Schools was under the command of a true leader. Dr. Crawford was not as personable at times as his predecessor or successor, but had a way of cutting through the malarkey and saying exactly what needed to be said.

Before Dr. Crawford was Dr. Chip Zullinger. While many have their opinions, I believe Zullinger was the most personable superintendent in the history of the county. He liked the people of Bertie County and he truly wanted to be a part of the district. If a new superintendent is coming from outside Bertie County – and we all know that is what will happen – that new leader needs to have the same desire to be a part of Bertie County Zullinger had – and his way of working with people.

The interim superintendent before Zullinger may have been one of the most intelligent and experienced leaders the district ever had. If the Bertie County Board of Education could find someone with the knowledge of Dr. Michael Priddy who wasn’t retired, they would have found a true blessing to Bertie County. Priddy was without a doubt, one of the finest leaders the school system has had, even on an interim basis.

I never worked with those between Priddy and Joe Nelson, so it’s difficult for me to comment on them.

As for Nelson, I think he was a consummate professional. I didn’t always agree with him, but I did always believe he did what he thought was right for Bertie County Schools. Also, he was able to last a long time for any superintendent, but particularly for one in Bertie County. His staying power as a leader would be nice as well.

I think Bertie County Schools has improved over the past five years, sometimes in spite of itself. The district has some good teachers. It also has some good school-level leaders. The three high schools are working. They are offering better choices for students and the students are taking advantage of them.

What Bertie County needs now is a superintendent that can combine all the best qualities of its past leaders and take the district into a future where success can be enjoyed by every student.


Thadd White is Managing Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached via email at or by telephone at 332-7211. In addition to covering the Bertie County Schools, he is a graduate of the district.

  • Boomer

    Today some of us sat around and laughed at this article. Others of us chatted by telephone and found this “opinion” quite amusing. Let me use Thadd White’s words to explain and summarize our conversation.

    Harris Rollins exuded grace (a sense of fitness or propriety and a disposition to be generous or helpful) and dignity (bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation, tasteful, composed). Surely we don’t want that in Bertie.

    Crawford cut through the malarkey (rubbish or nonsense) and was a true leader (one who guides and has influence or power). Well, we see the problem right there; Heaven forbid someone not from Bertie try to tell someone in Bertie what is right and then also try to claim any power – forget that they were hired to do so. Two strikes against Crawford!

    Zullinger was personable (pleasant in personality) and liked people. You have got to be kidding; we definitely don’t want that in Bertie.

    Priddy was intelligent (mentally acute, showing sound judgment and rationality) and Nelson was a professional (skilled practitioneer and expert). Who in their right “Bertie” mind would want anyone with those qualities near them much less leading the school system.

    Nelson also, according to Thadd, had staying power and did what was right. Obviously we cannot tolerate that in Bertie. We are at six (superintendents) in six (years). I say let’s stay true to who we are and go for seven in seven then eight in eight.

    Thadd also writes, “I think Bertie County Schools has improved over the past five years, sometimes in spite of itself.” No, Thadd, you don’t have to think or wonder about this one. The district has made improvements; test scores show increases again this year (I heard the superintendent tell a group last week that seven schools showed growth and most showed high growth). Improvement, Thadd, IS in spite of the district’s ultimate leaders, the board.

    As the aforementioned leaders have come and gone and are preparing to go, what has stayed consistent is the dysfunctional (faulty, diminished, impaired) board; you know, the ones who don’t (according to Thadd) want grace, dignity, leadership, personality, intelligence, professionalism, influence and longevity. Now, again, these were qualities Thadd noted.

    I can tell you that we have seen these and many more positive qualities in Harris Rollins and her predecessors. She, though, being the current superintendent is the one we discussed at length because we have found her to possess the qualities Thadd noticed in her along with those he noticed in the other previous superintendents. Well, she possessed all of them except Nelson’s staying power. But who could really blame her on that last one?

    Thadd ends his “opinion” by writing this – “What Bertie County needs now is a superintendent that can combine all the best qualities of its past leaders and take the district into a future where success can be enjoyed by every student.” Well, we think Bertie needs something before that – a new board.

    Today we sat around and laughed at this article, but we cried for the children in Bertie County Schools as we watch yet another capable leader pack up and go.

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