Supporters praise Dr. Collins-Hart

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2007

WINDSOR – The message was clear.

Colorful signs were numerous inside the Bertie County Board of Education meeting room here Tuesday night. All were in support of retaining the services of Bertie Schools Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart.

However, those cardboard messages failed to sway the majority of the school board as in a 3-2 vote, Dr. Collins-Hart’s contract was terminated.

But before the fateful vote was cast, the overflow crowd, estimated at nearly 200 strong, held an “educational revival” as the superintendent’s numerous supporters made their feelings known.

“We’re not here to raise hell; we’re here to save our superintendent,” said Emmitt Kimbrough who orchestrated an impromptu meeting while the school board, in closed session, debated Dr. Collins-Hart’s future for over one hour in a separate room.

“We have a superintendent who is a bonafide instructional specialist trained to prepare our children for a global market,” continued Kimbrough, a Bertie County resident who is the retired superintendent of the Weldon City School system. “There’s no reason to dismiss Dr. Collins-Hart. The question is why are they (the school board) even considering it?”

Kimbrough wasn’t alone in his support of Dr. Collins-Hart. Fannie Williams, principal of Colerain Elementary School, touched upon the trouble Bertie County was having in attracting and retaining quality teachers, an issue she said Dr. Collins-Hart was attempting to solve.

“If we have to spend $122,500 to buy out her contract; if we have to spend money to find a new superintendent and if we have to use money to pay an interim superintendent, why couldn’t we use that money to better our school system by offering incentives and bonuses to keep our quality teachers,” Williams asked.

Former Bertie School Board Chairman Seaton Fairless said he was puzzled over why the current board suddenly wanted to terminate the superintendent.

“Before I left the board in December, I was not aware of any problems or concerns the board was having with Dr. Collins-Hart,” he said. “I went through the board one by one and asked and no one said they had a problem with her. That leaves me with the question, why, why now?”

Another former school board member, Rev. Gary Cordon, addressed a deeper issue.

“We have a problem with our board of education that is going into a budget process with a board chairman who is a county employee,” Cordon said in reference to Ricky Freeman who serves Bertie County as its Director of Emergency Management.

Cordon continued, “That’s a conflict of interest. No matter what the board decides to do with Dr. Collins-Hart, we still have to address that issue (with the chairman).”

That prompted a response from Kimbrough who said, “We need to be selective about who we choose to put behind that sacred (school board) desk.”

Pearline Ashe Bunch, who serves as finance officer for Bertie Schools, praised Dr. Collins-Hart’s effort to move the system forward with innovative programs and grant funding. She also thanked the superintendent for giving the non-certified school staff a three-percent local salary supplement as well as providing financial incentives for the bus drivers.

Carol Atkins, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, said Dr. Collins-Hart was a person that possessed a tremendous amount of foresight.

“In the short time she has been here, Dr. Collins-Hart has helped us build a vision for the future of our school system,” Atkins said. “That vision, in two to three years, will be worth all the hard work that has been placed into building it.”

Moments later, that vision was eclipsed as the school board members reentered their meeting room and voted to terminate the superintendent’s contract.