Zullinger succumbs

Published 9:52 am Thursday, April 3, 2014

HOUSTON, TX – Sidney “Chip” Zullinger, former superintendent of Bertie County Public Schools from 2007 to 2010, died Tuesday. He was 63.

Funeral arrangements are not known at this time.

After leaving Bertie County, Zullinger joined the Houston (TX) Independent School District (HISD) in 2010 and most recently served as chief officer over elementary schools, supervising about 150 campuses.

Dr. Chip Zullinger

Dr. Chip Zullinger

After nearly three years on the job, Zullinger was suspended by the Bertie County School Board in late July 2010 because it believed he misrepresented certain issues to the board, violated board policies and the current condition of the Bertie County Schools. The official parting of ways was later described by both parties as “irreconcilable differences.”

That suspension came a few days after the school board decided not to sign a contract with CenturyLink Communications Co. to bring the “Connect Bertie” program to the county, a program that would have provided free wireless Internet service to Bertie County students who come from low-income households.

A planned visit from then-Gov. Beverly Perdue to celebrate the start of Connect Bertie had to be abruptly cancelled at the last minute.

While Zullinger was never named as the reason, the school board was concerned with contracts Zullinger signed to allow outside entities to provide services to the School System for the upcoming 2009-10 school year that would have cost the system $2 million.

When asked if the school board knew about the various contracts Zullinger signed and what it was costing the school system, board members cited a lack of oversight. School board members claimed they were unaware of the cost of many of the programs Zullinger brought to the county, as well as the school system’s financial standing until a few weeks before Zullinger’s suspension; claiming the board had left such matters in the hands of Zullinger and its finance officers without questioning them.

Board members went on to add that a communication vacuum between the board, Zullinger and others at the central office resulted in many of the problems the board faced at that time.

“Our disagreements were over monies not being used in what we felt was the right direction,” said Bertie County School Board member Alton Parker, who was vice-chair of the board at the time Zullinger served as superintendent.

“I hate that he’s passed away and I had a pretty good personal relationship with him and I liked him,” Parker added. “Sometimes he made some bad business decisions for the school and we had to part ways but I didn’t hate him or anything.  He was a very likeable person, jolly and all that; but to sum it up he was a nice guy but he was not right for Bertie County.”

“We have lost a good friend, great person and champion for all children,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier wrote in a message to staff Wednesday morning, and reported Wednesday by the Houston Chronicle.

Grier said he hired Zullinger in Houston after crossing paths with him at education conferences during their careers, as principals in North Carolina and later as superintendents. Zullinger previously led the Denver and Charleston, S.C., school districts, among others in North Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming.

Houston School Board Director Patrick Creadon described Zullinger as “a renegade school superintendent.”

John Davis of Merry Hill praised Zullinger’s work in Bertie County.

“Rest in peace my friend Chip Zullinger, Dr. Z; thank you for all you did here,” Davis said in an email sent to this newspaper late Wednesday afternoon. “Say a prayer for our friend who left us yesterday (Tuesday) after a heart attack.”

Davis also shared some words that were on Zullinger’s  Google + account.

“I remembered them and went back to save them today,” Davis said.

Zullinger’s words on that account are as follows:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“Given what he went through, I find Nelson Mandela to be a very rare person.”

During his term as Bertie’s Superintendent, Zullinger led the school district to unprecedented academic success. During the 2008-2009 academic year, Bertie County Schools had seven of nine schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress. The Connect Bertie program and Project H were other projects that Zullinger nurtured while in Bertie County.

(Erica Mellon of the Houston Chronicle assisted with this story.).