NC Board of Ed: Halifax schools obstructing student achievement
Posted October 7, 2013
Halifax, N.C. — North Carolina’s State Board of Education is putting Halifax County’s struggling school system on notice: Comply with a 2009 court order addressing poor academic performance or face more state control.
State board Chairman William Cobey said in a letter Monday that he has "grave concerns" about how the Halifax County school board has handled Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's order, and accused some members of being "disruptive, uncooperative and obstructionist" in their interactions with the SBE.
He said his staff will begin compiling evidence of the school board’s lack of cooperation in case it is needed in court. That includes recording both open- and closed-session school board meetings, starting Monday night.
"If necessary, the SBE intends to direct its legal counsel to move the Court to broaden the authority of the SBE under the Court Order to ensure the desired educational outcomes for your students despite actions to the contrary," the letter states.
Halifax County school board Chairwoman Donna Hunter said she appreciated Cobey's letter.
"If your focus is on the kids, then you would appreciate the letter because the letter is going to allow us to drive in our lane," Hunter said.
Board member Charles Hedgepeth, however, said he felt like Cobey overstepped his authority.
"When I ran for the Halifax County school board, I was supposed to exercise my constitutional right by voting and speaking as I choose," he said. "It's seems like that's getting taken away from me. Every time we have a situation, they send me a threatening letter."
After Manning's ruling in April 2009, in which he pointed to poor end-of-grade reading test scores among Halifax County students and called the situation "academic genocide," the SBE dispatched staff members to the school system to help them implement a comprehensive plan to boost academic achievement.
That plan included financial assistance, professional development opportunities, instructional coaching for teachers and administrators, remediation for students and other efforts to improve student performance.
But, despite that help, Cobey said, the school board has driven good administrators and teachers away, repeatedly asked the board chair and superintendent to resign, threatened and bullied administrators over personnel decisions and proposed illegal and discriminatory personnel actions.
In particular, the board voted to rehire a low-performing principal in a central office role against the wishes of the SBE and school system superintendent.
In addition, Cobey alleges, the school board is considering extending fulltime employment to teacher’s assistant, rejecting specific directives from the SBE and State Superintendent June Atkinson not to do so.
That move would "clearly jeopardize (Halifax County Schools’) financial status after only recently recovering from its indebtedness," the letter states.