By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Hoke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson will be leaving his position of 15 years to take the helm at Public Schools of Robeson County.
The Robeson County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to select Williamson as its new superintendent with a salary of $200,000 a year, according to The Robesonian. The Robeson County school system announced the decision on its Facebook page Monday night.
Williamson said he plans to ask the Hoke Board of Education to release him Friday, December 18 so he can start working with Robeson in January.
“I have had a great working relationship with our Board of Education members. I am so thankful that over the last 15 years they have been so supportive of the work,” Williamson wrote in an email Tuesday.
The superintendent said he chose to pursue the position with Robeson County because after 15 years of service in the same district, “it is time for a new set of challenges.”
“I am not leaving because something is wrong, I am leaving because I think Hoke County Schools is in a great position and the move may provide the opportunity for other administrators to advance within the district,” he wrote. “I love Hoke County. I am so appreciative of the opportunity afforded me to serve and the difference as a team we have made.”
Williamson added that the Hoke County Board of Commissioners has been “a wonderful partner” in providing funding and support.
When asked about how the school system made gains in education over the last decade and a half, the superintendent said it was based on teamwork.
“Over the years we have improved so much, not because of one individual, because of our ‘One Team – One Goal’ belief and actions. In every building, every department, every classroom, local government the only focus has been providing a quality education for all students,” he wrote.
Hoke Board of Education Chairwoman Irish Pickett said Williamson has done an “outstanding” job, and made many contributions that helped move the school district forward.
“I’m proud for him. He has served us for 10 years or more, and it was his vision to do as much as he could to move Hoke County forward, and this is what he has done. And now I think it’s time for him to move on to advance his career in other areas and do what he can for other systems,” Pickett said.
School board member Barbara Buie said that Williamson spoke with board members privately following last week’s meeting to let them know he might be leaving, but they “found out when the rest of the world found out” when the decision came Monday night.
“I think we’re all saddened that he’s leaving, but he has done a super job in Hoke County,” she said.
Board member Rosa McAllister-McRae called the moment bittersweet.
“We want to see people progress, we want to see them move on, that’s the sweet part. The bitter part is we’re going to miss him,” she said.
At the time Hoke County Schools hired Williamson, the school system was facing a multitude of challenges, McAllister-McRae recalled.
“The state was about to take over the high school because of our graduation rate. It was 47.1 in 2006. And now it is 87.6, so he’s done an amazing job,” she said.
Pickett said she spoke with Williamson Tuesday morning about the transition, but the school board members had not yet had a chance to speak about beginning the hiring process to select a new superintendent. Pickett said she would like to reach out to the board’s legal counsel for guidance in taking the next steps.
Buie said that when that process begins, the school system will need to publicize the position and take applications, then “take a close look” at the applicants who apply – which could potentially include some candidates who already are familiar with, and work for the school system.
In the meantime, it’s possible that one of Hoke County Schools’ associate or assistant superintendents could step in to the leadership role temporarily while the school board prepares to start the hiring process, Buie said. Hoke County Schools has one associate superintendent, and three assistant superintendents.
“My opinion is that one of them could step in while we catch our breath,” she said.
Those individuals are Associate Superintendent Roger Edwards, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Dowless, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Shannon Register and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Donna Thomas.
Dowless focuses on pre-k to grade 5 curriculum, Register focuses on grades 6-13 curriculum and Thomas serves as associate superintendent over human resources. Edwards previously served as principal of Hoke High, Dowless previously served as principal of Rockfish Elementary, Register previously served as executive director for secondary education and Thomas previously served as director of elementary education. Dowless, Register and Thomas have served as assistant superintendents since 2014, and Edwards has served as associate superintendent since 2018.
Under Williamson’s leadership as Hoke County Schools Superintendent, the graduation rate increased and student test scores improved. The county built multiple new schools, including Don Steed Elementary and the solar and geothermal energy-powered Sandy Grove Middle School, and recently received $10 million in grant funding to build a SandHoke School of Engineering. The school system rolled out a one-to-one initiative to place iPads and Chromebooks in the hands of all its students, which helped the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.
Williamson has more than 35 years of service in public education. He previously worked as a classroom teacher, assistant principal, high school principal, director of personnel, director of vocational education, director of secondary education and associate superintendent. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from North Carolina A&T State University, an advanced graduate degree from East Carolina University and a doctoral degree from Fayetteville State University.
Williamson was named the 2016 A. Craig Phillips North Carolina Superintendent of the Year and the 2016 Sandhills Regional Superintendent of the Year. He has also received multiple other awards for leadership including 2011 Sandhills Regional Superintendent of the Year, North Carolina Association of Education Office Personnel Administrator of the Year, State Principal of the Year Finalist and Southeast Regional Principal of the Year. He was also named Wachovia Principal of the Year twice.
In 2018, Williamson sought a job as superintendent with the Marlboro County Board of Education in South Carolina, but that school system chose a different candidate for the position.