After nearly two decades at the helm of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, Superintendent Don Martin announced last week that he plans to retire on June 30, 2013.
Martin, the 2011 North Carolina Superintendent of the Year and his wife, Rita, are expecting their second granddaughter in December. The 61 year-old says he is retiring to spend more time with his family.
“Dr. Martin has been a dedicated leader who has worked tirelessly to improve our school system,” Donny Lambeth, Chairman of the Board of Education, said in a statement denoting the announcement. “I have admired Don’s unique ability to deal with difficult budgetary issues facing the school system for many years now. In addition, his involvement in the community has been very effective as he worked to forge alliances in the community to encourage volunteerism in our schools. The impact of his work will be felt for decades, and we appreciate his loyalty and integrity over the years.”
Geneva Brown helmed the search committee that brought Martin to the county 18 years ago.
“We had only 35 applications, and to me at that time, you needed more applications than that for a job like that, but they (the Board) were determined to go through with the 35, and that’s what we did,” recalled Brown, who stepped down from the Board last year because of health concerns. “…Out of the ones we interviewed, I would say he was the best of a lot, and I think in all that he’s done, I think he’s done a good job.”
Martin has overseen many changes as superintendent, but will likely be most remembered for his implementation of “choice” or “neighborhood” schools, which many say has essentially re-segregated the district. The program virtually ended cross-town busing to allow parents to send their children to schools closest to their homes. Since few neighborhoods in the county are truly integrated, the choice plan has led to a number of one-race schools in the district.
Dr. Carlton Eversley, pastor of Dellabrook Presbyterian Church and a vocal community organizer, has for years railed against Martin for his role in pushing the plan through.
“It’s unfortunate that his most long lasting accomplishment, which I would put in quotes, is the resegregation of this district,” Eversley said. “It’s the most drastic change for the time in which he was hired, and it dwarfs his other, actual accomplishments.”
Chenita Barber Johnson, a two-time Board of Education candidate and mother of one, has also been outspoken in her criticism of the choice plan.
“He’s been here quite awhile and I don’t see much that he has done to improve our school system or our children concerning their education and helping them and also helping their families and communities come together with the school system,” she said. “Instead of trying to bring this community together through our schools, what has happened is they’ve been systematically separating everybody and separating our kids.”
Martin defended his decision to adopt the choice plan, which was implemented districtwide in 1995.
“If you look at what’s going on in the country, the issue of choice is now mainstream,” Martin said. “Those kinds of things were really a national movement, and we were just real early. We were kind of pioneers in that area.”
When the program was initially implemented, Martin said the school system was the fourth worst among urban districts statewide with respect to a measure called “market share,” which measures the number of students who opt to attend private or charter schools in lieu of public institutions. Now, WS/FCS attracts a higher percentage of local students than any other urban district in the state except Guilford County, according to the superintendent.
“I think it’s stood the test of time in many ways,” he said of the choice plan. “…I still think we’re a mainstream part of education and a viable one for Forsyth County, and that’s important.”
Eversley said he is hopeful the school board will consider the diversity of the district, which is only 43 percent Caucasian, in their selection of Martin’s successor.
“I certainly hope that someone who’s not white and male is interviewed for the position, someone who has a vision for a more inclusive county,” Eversley said. “…we should demand that somebody who’s not white should be interviewed for this job.”
Board of Education Member Vic Johnson said the performance of African American and Hispanic students should be a big priority for the next superintendent.
“I’m concerned about the education of these minority kids,” Johnson said. “There’s got to be a better job (done) of getting these kids educated so they can go to college and be productive citizens someday.”
Johnson said Martin has done a good job of selecting sound principals for the district, but added that allowing those principals to hire teachers, rather than leaving the job up to the district’s human resources department has made the school system’s pool of teachers less diverse than it should be.
Martin said the state is rolling out an entirely new assessment system and curriculum known as Essential Standards that will replace the Standard Course of Study teachers have adhered to for years. The first round of the new assessments, which will begin this year, will likely cause some confusion as students and parents adjust to the more rigorous standards, Martin said. He says that transition will likely be the greatest challenge the new superintendent will face, but overall, he feels confident that the district is in a good place to take on a new leader.
“It’s been a very satisfying 18-plus years,” Martin said. “…I feel good about where things are at the moment.”
Lambeth said a search to replace Dr. Martin will begin immediately. The Board of Education hopes to name Martin’s replacement by May 2013.