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T-shirts showing a likeness of former North Carolina basketball players Theo Pinson and Jackie Manuel are seen for sale Thursday at Underground Printing in Chapel Hill. The Ann Arbor-based company Underground Printing is positioned to help athletes and its business make money with merchandise it can sell online.

Tarboro mayor won't seek re-election

While he has agreed to serve as mayor until an election is held in March 2022, Joe Pitt will not seek re-election.

He was appointed to fill an unexpired term in July 2017 and then won a full term that November.

Pitt made the announcement during the mayor’s comment section of the agenda near the end of the July 12 town council meeting following the council’s unanimous vote to postpone the mayoral election until March 8, 2022, because of a delay in receiving results from the 2020 Census.

Reading from a prepared statement, Pitt said it is his belief that the town’s elected officials should serve the shortest terms possible.

“Although this is difficult, I believe this is still true,” he said.

The mayoral election was originally scheduled for November.

Pitt said that by agreeing to serve until the March election, others thinking about seeking the office will have more time to give thought to the issue.

“This will give any councilmen more time to think about what they might want to do in the future,” he said. “I do look forward to serving in other capacities as needed.”

During Pitt’s tenure, the town has expanded downtown events and seen what is expected to be some small population growth when the census data is released. The town also has experienced a surge in the construction of affordable single-family homes as well as the construction of an income-based apartment complex on the old Hilma Country Club golf course.

During his term, the town — like every other in America — has battled the effects of COVID-19 on the economy.

And like many other communities, Tarboro also dealt with the removal of a Confederate monument that had been located on the Town Common.

Unlike many communities, Tarboro’s monument was removed without demonstration or unrest.

The Telegram reached out to all eight current council members and posed the question: “With Joe’s announcement that he will not seek re-election as mayor, do you have any plans to run? Have you given it any thought?”

At press time, only Ward 4 Councilman C.B. Brown had responded, saying “No, not at this time.”

Business blooms at new nursery

A newly established minority-owned business, Four Seasonal Nursery, opened to the public on June 26 on South Church Street.

Owners Glover and Katonia Ford have more than 70 years of experience and expertise that will prove invaluable to their Rocky Mount customer base.

Katonia Ford, a graduate of N.C. Central University, brings experience in customer service and finance to the business.

Glover Ford is a graduate of N.C. A&T University, with a major in agricultural education and a minor in horticulture. After he obtained his degree, he began teaching at local high schools and community colleges.

“During my time as a teacher, I felt like the students learned a great deal about plants with my guidance because they could see the passion I had,” Glover Ford said. “While teaching high school, my students and I sold a variety of plants, including poinsettias and mums — just to name a few. The money we raised was for the Future Farmers of America.”

He said after retiring in January, he wanted to continue to grow and sell plants.

“We came up with Four Seasonal Nursery because I wanted to not only serve the community, but to also use my talents and educate people,” Glover Ford said. “As a matter of fact, I had a teacher come to see me a few weeks ago and wanted to know if I could just do a class on gardening. Of course I said I’d be glad to.”

Shanda Hill, a local science teacher, recently braved the heat and took a trip to the nursery. She told the Telegram that she saw a posting on Facebook about the nursery and learned the owners were from Enfield, her hometown.

“I’m trying to support local business ventures,” she said. “I’ve been to Lowe’s and had good experiences, but there’s nothing like supporting our local friends.”

Katonia Ford said the nursery’s commitment to its customers is to constantly improve all aspects of its daily operations to exceed their expectations.

“As a family-owned business, we are immensely proud of the strides we are making in the local area by expanding our business to the local community,” she said. “Our goals are to listen to our customers and to continuously expand products and services to meet their needs.”

With a laugh, she added, “I’m going to try my best to bother Glover enough to let me put up a pumpkin patch this year. What kind of nursery doesn’t have a pumpkin patch?”

The business at 4361 S. Church St. is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and can be reached at 252-316-8881.

Live theater to return to Imperial Centre

The local summer production series will return this week to the Theater at the Imperial Centre with performances of “The Little Prince.”

“The Little Prince” is a production based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It will include local youth ages 6-18, telling the story of a world-weary aviator whose malfunctioning plane strands him in the Sahara Desert.

Artistic and Managing Director Brooke Edwards will direct the production, while music direction will be led by Benjamin Griffith and Shawn Leonard.

“We have such a talented group of young people who have come together to tell this important story,” Edwards said. “Our community will be blown away from these performances, and I think it is an important story to be telling right now. I think we have all learned, ‘What’s important is invisible to the eye.’”

Showtimes will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets will be general seating and are available by visiting imperialcentre.org or calling 252-972-1266.

Virus cases surge in Edgecombe County as delta strain spreads

New cases of COVID dipped slightly during the past week in Nash County but more than tripled in Edgecombe County as the delta variant of the virus begins to dominate the COVID landscape in North Carolina.

According to information presented to state lawmakers by a representative of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 80 percent of COVID cases in the state are from the delta strain of the virus.

“We are not able to track this on the county level, but the CDC is taking random samples from each state, which is how they likely arrived at the 80 percent figure,” Nash County Health Director Bill Hill said Tuesday at a weekly meeting of the Nash County COVID Response Team.

In Nash County, the number of new COVID cases dipped slightly this week with 22 cases reported Monday over the previous seven days and 36 cases reported the week before. The new cases bring the cumulative number of COVID cases in Nash County to 11,532.

Of that number, 196 Nash County residents have died, the same number as reported the week before.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reported that 39 new cases of COVID were reported over the past week in Edgecombe County. That number is more than three times higher than the dozen cases reported during the previous week in the county.

The cumulative number of cases reported in Edgecombe County is 5,769. Of that number, 118 Edgecombe County residents have died of COVID-related causes at last report.

The number of patients admitted to Nash UNC Health Care with COVID complications rose slightly from six to eight this past week, Hill said Tuesday.

Vaccinations are still the best line of defense against COVID, even against the delta strain of the virus, he said. Hill said he was encouraged to see more than 40 COVID vaccinations administered Tuesday at the Nash County Health Department.

“At this clinic, we gave out more first-dose vaccines than second-dose vaccines,” Hill said. “It has been a while since we have seen that.”

Hill said that more people are also now showing interest in getting the vaccine for their family members in the 12-17 age range. Vaccines for adolescents are usually given on Fridays at the Nash County Health Department.

“I think we are seeing more as the school year draws near,” Hill said.

To encourage more people to get vaccinated, some local organizations and businesses are hosting events with extra incentives offered.

From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on July 29, the McDonald’s in Nashville is offering a coupon for a free sandwich to residents who participate in their drive-through vaccination event. More details about this will be announced next week.

Greater Joy Church in Rocky Mount is offering a $25 cash card to people receiving their first vaccination or to people who bring in an adult to receive their first vaccination. This free vaccination clinic will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on July 31 at the church at 820 Nashville Road in Rocky Mount.

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be offered at that event, according to information provided by former state Sen. Angela Bryant.

School districts differ on virtual options for coming school year

As local school districts plan for the coming year, Nash County Public Schools is rolling out its new virtual academy to meet the needs of families who prefer to keep their students out of the classroom, but Edgecombe County will not offer a virtual academy at all.

One of the main reasons for the difference in approach is the size, resources and needs of each district.

Nash County Public Schools had an average daily membership of 14,832 students during the 2019-20 school year while the average daily membership at Edgecombe County Public Schools for that year was 5,836, according to information from the state Department of Public Instruction website.

Both school districts have lost a considerable number of students since the pandemic began, but those figures are not available on the state website.

Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent Valerie Bridges said last week at a meeting of the Edgecombe County Board of Education that surveys of the district have not indicated sufficient interest in a virtual academy for the district.

“Staff members had two Zoom meetings with families who expressed interested in the virtual academy option to help determine their commitment level. Out of the 18 parents who attended the sessions, 16 indicated that they were still interested while two shared that they were no longer interested,” Bridges told school board members.

In June, Bridges had reported that just 99 students had expressed interest in the virtual academy, though the school would need at least 100 students before the option could be eligible for state funding.

Bridges said that the new numbers were even lower. Only 25 elementary students, 35 middle-school students and 34 high-school students were still on the list, for a total of 94 students from the entire district.

“If we had a virtual academy, we would have to hire a principal, teaching staff, a testing coordinator, a counselor and a data manager for the school,” Bridges told school board members. “I am not sure when we look at this if this is something that says that our community is in need of this option at a high rate.”

School board members agreed.

“To me, the numbers just don’t verify the need for this,” school board member William Ellis said.

Bridges said that she and her staff agree.

“We only have interest expressed from 94 students, and since only 18 parents attended the Zoom meetings, we don’t even know if we have those 94,” Bridges said. “I just don’t know if (it) makes sense and if the community really thinks there is a need.”

The virtual academy is off the table for the coming school year in Edgecombe County. However, Bridges said her staff intends to take time at their Summer Leadership meeting this week to explore other learning options for students who prefer to stay home.

During a retreat meeting Monday of the Nash County Board of Education, school staff told members of the school board that the new Nash Everywhere Digital Academy, or NEDA, is almost ready for the school year to begin. The school district has offered virtual academy options in the past, but NEDA is designed to reach students at almost all levels of instruction and has been redesigned based on lessons learned about virtual teaching during the pandemic.

As of May 24, 456 students in Nash County Public Schools had applied to request enrollment in NEDA for the coming year, said Danny Plyler, director of instructional technology and virtual learning for the school district. As of Monday, 341 students had been approved for admittance into NEDA.

The criteria for acceptance were based on whether students seemed likely to succeed in that format, Plyler said. Students need to have a minimum of 70 percent attendance rate in past virtual settings, have passed at least three core classes and have a recommendation from their principals to be accepted.

The school district is setting up an appeals process for next week for students and their parents who would like to be reconsidered for enrollment, Plyler said.

Currently, 134 elementary students, 92 middle school students and 107 high school students have been selected for the inaugural year of the Nash Everywhere Digital Academy.