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Schools put on new path

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Several local leaders have said Shelton Jefferies’ resignation as superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools should bode well for the future of the school district.

Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis said he feels that Jefferies’ resignation was the right move for the school district.

“The board of commissioners is not involved in the process of choosing a school superintendent or overseeing the kind of job he does,” he said. “But this seems like a good decision. We are pleased that the decision to accept his resignation was unanimous this time because it wasn’t last time. I think that will help in the transition and the decisions the board makes for the school district in the future.”

A former member of the school board, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the way Jefferies resigned without receiving additional payments is telling. Under the terms of Jefferies’ original contract, if the school board unilaterally decided to let him go without cause, they would have had to pay his salary for the next 12 months.

“I suspect the board told Jefferies it believed it had cause for termination but that it would allow him to resign if he would agree not to seek the severance payment,” he said. “His choices were to accept the offer to allow him to resign or refuse to give up the payout, face termination, fight the termination and try to prove at the hearing that there were not valid grounds for his termination. He would do this only if he believed he would win.”

His observations, he said, are speculation based on his knowledge of the workings of the school board in the past and are not based on any personal knowledge of the way the decision was made.

“If he knew he would lose, he would have nothing to gain by insisting on a hearing that would expose his malfeasance. He chose to resign — but I believe the only reason he would have so chosen would have been the knowledge that he couldn’t win if he tried to fight,” he said. “In other words, by mutually agreeing that he resign, he saved face and the board was spared a lot of hassle and expense.”

Since the original contract was made, it has been amended twice: once to extend the end of the contract from June 2019 to June 2021 and once to approve reimbursement of $100 a month for home internet service that Jefferies apparently could not afford on his $172,500 salary plus benefits.

Wendy Wilson, a former school board member who resigned from the board in December 2018, said she was glad to see Jefferies resign.

“I think he showed a lack of commitment to the community by not moving his family here as he said he would,” Wilson said. “There were other issues as well.”

Wilson said she hopes the school board will carefully look at candidates within the school district before seeking an outside candidate.

“We need someone committed to our students and our staff,” she said. “The last two candidates were chosen from outside the district, and they have not worked out well. I hope the school board will look at candidates closer to home this time.”

Based on her knowledge of the school district and staff members, Wilson said she has a candidate in mind that she hopes the school board will consider.

“Dr. Mark Cockrell, our chief academic officer, would make an excellent candidate,” she said. “He has a great deal of experience and would make a wonderful superintendent. I just hope the school board will consider his superior qualifications and not let race be the deciding factor in the decision.”

But Wilson said she is concerned that the school board will split on the decision along racial lines as it has in the past.

“I think the fact that a permanent interim was not named when the announcement was made means that they are having trouble coming to an agreement on the issue, and that concerns me,” she said.

Davis said he also feels that the school board needs to look closer to home as they make a decision about the next superintendent.

“I feel like they need to find someone from this area who understands the needs of our students and the challenges this school district faces,” he said. “We need someone committed to these students. I think it would be better if they could find a candidate from within the school district or at least from an area nearby.”

The school board could name a permanent interim superintendent as early as Monday, when it meets at 7 p.m. in the Central Office auditorium in Nashville.