By the time Dr. Beverly Emory takes office as Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ new superintendent in July, she will likely already be well acquainted with several members of the local community, including former NAACP Chapter President Stephen Hairston.
Hairston has been vocal in his opposition to the Board of Education’s decision not to publicize the names of finalists for the superintendent.
“The city was transparent when they were trying to get the next police chief,” Hairston pointed out. “…But the school board for some reason seems to think that they can’t trust us.”
Last week, Hairston, a retired police sergeant, voiced further concerns about Emory, who currently serves as superintendent of Pitt County Schools, after learning about her home county’s legal woes.
“She brings a lot of baggage with her,” Hairston said. “…If we had known who the finalists were, these are some of the concerns that I would’ve brought up, that anybody else could’ve brought up.”
Since 1971, Pitt County and its county-seat, Greenville, have been under a desegregation order mandated by the U.S. District Court. A series of court proceedings have ensued in recent years, beginning prior to Emory’s arrival in 2006. Both white and African American groups have, at one time or another, sued the school system over its assignment plans. The school board is currently slated to appear in court this spring for final proceedings, when they will learn whether the system has satisfied the requirements of integration laws and can officially be released from the court order. “The district has taken appropriate steps to eliminate the vestiges of segregation,” Emory said. “It doesn’t mean that we are perfect and we don’t still have work to do.”
The online news site Camel City Dispatch also reported last week that Emory came under scrutiny from the Greenville area CBS affiliate for using public money to hire a private investigator to find out if some student athletes were qualified to play on certain football teams. A prevalence of students playing for teams outside of their residential districts reportedly led to this action, which Emory told Greenville-based Channel 9 was completely above board.
John Davenport, vice chair of the WS/FCS Board of Education, said he isn’t concerned about Pitt County’s checkered court history.
“From the beginning, the Board was aware of the court mandated desegregation order that has been in place for nearly 50 years in the Pitt County community,” he stated. “Dr. Emory was very transparent about the efforts she and her Board have taken to address an issue that preceded her tenure.”
If anything, Davenport said Emory’s experiences in Pitt County are a selling point to him.
“Her commitment to working with a diverse community with different opinions on how things should be done, as well as a divided Board of Education, is one of the things that attracted me to Dr. Emory for the role of superintendent here,” he said. “She has demonstrated that she has the tenacity to take on tough issues.”
Emory said the challenges she faced in Pitt County have been great learning tools for her.
“It’s not bad pressure,” she said. “You need to feel that pressure to keep working hard … so in some ways, it has been a good thing. I’ve learned a lot.”
One of the subjects of debate has been an elementary school that opened in the county in 2011. Plaintiffs have argued that the school violates the court order because it is predominantly African American, but Emory said the school was opened to serve the population around it, which happens to be predominantly African American and which was overwhelmingly in favor of the school’s creation when administrators surveyed them prior to its construction.
“The parents of the students who lived closest to that school are predominantly African American and their children had been being transported from a pretty decent distance to another school … to achieve better diversity in that school,” Emory said. “I can’t recall a parent we saw either in meetings or going door to door who didn’t want to go to the new school.”
Despite the plaintiff’s objections, the school has been a success, achieving high growth on end of grade tests in three of four subject areas and landing a PTA award for its high level of parental involvement, Emory said.
“They’re doing very well,” she said. “They’re making good progress.”
Ronald Travis, principal of Carver High School, worked under Emory as a school administrator in Pitt County for four years.
“As an administrator, I found her to be very fair to all schools. She used her influence and school resources to ensure that all children received a good education,” he said of Emory, who visited Carver last week, the day after her appointment was announced. “The energy and interest she displayed during her visit to Winston-Salem is sincere. She is very passionate about educating all children.”
Emory said she hopes the local community will judge her on her record, in Pitt County – where she says out of school suspension rates have dropped “tremendously” during her tenure, the dropout rate has been slashed by 50 percent and the graduation rate has increased from 58-73 percent – rather than the county’s history.
“There’s clearly some improvements that have been made, and that would be my same approach in my (new) community. I am a listener and I want to hear what their hopes and dreams are,” she said of local community members and stakeholders. “I was so impressed by the high involvement of people during my visit. The people really do care.”
Hairston said his fears about Emory’s background have been allayed.
“After receiving information from the Pitt County NAACP this weekend, my concerns about the new superintendent has been (satisfactorily) answered,” Hairston said in an email to The Chronicle on Monday. “I look forward to working with her on the many problems in the school system.”
Emory said she is looking forward to talking with Hairston and other leaders in the local community in the coming weeks and months.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” she declared. “I’m going to do all I can to get out in the community and meet with people and hear from them, hopefully before I start the job on July 1.”