By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
The Hoke County Board of Education met in closed session Monday to conduct interviews with candidates as Hoke County Schools begins the search for a new superintendent.
The interviews were held throughout the day at the Hoke County Parks and Sports Complex on Red Springs Road. The school board members focused on candidates who are already employed within Hoke County Schools, according to board attorney Carolyn Murchison.
The meeting was the second closed session held so far to allow the school board members the chance to discuss the process for selecting a new superintendent. Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson plans to part ways with Hoke County Schools later this month to begin working with Public Schools of Robeson County in January, after leading the Hoke school district for 15 years.
The interviewing Monday got off to a strong start, Murchison said.
“They went great. We have very strong, talented staff in the district,” she said.
Although she was not at liberty to discuss any particular candidates that may have stood out as frontrunners, the attorney said that the school board was interested in filling the position with someone already familiar with, and employed by Hoke County Schools. The board does have the option of not conducting a more widespread search if they feel that’s in the best interests of the school system, Murchison said.
“They can hire within if they feel they have a good pool of candidates to select from internally,” Murchison said.
It’s going to be a challenge for a candidate to follow in Williamson’s footsteps, as he leaves behind big shoes to fill, she added, saying that Williamson “really turned the district around.” In his decade and a half of leading the school system, the high school graduation rate rose from below 50 percent to about 87 percent in the 2020 school year.
Finding someone who can take up and continue that work is what most concerns the school board members in the selection process, Murchison said.
“I think they want someone with experience who understands the needs of Hoke County, and who is someone who will bring all of the wonderful qualities that Dr. Williamson brought to the district,” she said.
The board has not yet determined a salary for the new superintendent, but instead considers it negotiable, according to the board attorney. The board members have not specified any particular set of qualifications during the candidate search at this time, but could potentially discuss the matter further at the next Board of Education meeting. The school board has not yet decided on appointing an interim person to fill the position temporarily, though some board members suggested that as a possibility in earlier comments.
The board members have also not yet voted to approve Williamson’s request for the school district to release him December 18. They can also take up that matter at the next board meeting, Murchison said.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting is set for next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be the first one to see newcomer Keisha Gill join the five-person board, as outgoing member Hank Richards chose not to run for reelection this year. The board members will have the opportunity to vote on a board chairperson and vice chairperson.
Currently Irish Pickett serves as board chair with Barbara Buie as vice chairperson, along with board members Della Maynor and Rosa McAllister-McRae.
The school board members referred The News-Journal to Murchison when contacted for comment about the candidate search.