By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County Board of Education members including returning incumbent Rosa McAllister-McRae, and newly elected board member Keisha Gill took the oath of office last week at the board’s December meeting.
Clerk of Superior Court Evelyn McLeod conducted the swearing-in ceremony, and the board also selected its new officers for the upcoming year. The board members chose McAllister-McRae as the new chairwoman of the Hoke Board of Education, and Barbara Buie as the vice chairwoman.
McAllister-McRae thanked the board for the chance to serve as chairwoman.
“I just want to take this opportunity to tell the board that I appreciate you. Thank you for your vote of confidence. We have been doing a great job, Mrs. Pickett has been doing an excellent job these past three years, and we are going to continue to work. It’s not I, it’s we, and thank you again for the vote of confidence from my board. We’re going to move forward,” she said.
The school board recognized departing Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson in remarks at the board meeting. Williamson will be leaving Hoke County Schools to take over as the superintendent for Public Schools of Robeson County in January.
Public officials including Hoke County Commission Chairman Harry Southerland, Vice Chairman Allen Thomas, Commissioner James Leach, Hoke Sheriff Dr. Hubert Peterkin, and Chairman Larry Simmons of the Hoke County Civic League attended the meeting via Zoom.
Southerland said that hiring Williamson in the first place was one of the best decisions the school board could have made.
“Because of that, I think we’ve seen our first school board of the year,” he said, referring to the board’s award from the North Carolina School Boards Association. “Because of that, we’ve seen our first superintendent of the year, actually went number four in the country. And then also because of that, we have a number-one school recognized in the nation, all because of your work.”
“If they follow your lead, Robeson County can go to new heights,” Southerland added.
Leach praised Williamson’s contributions to the Hoke County school system and community during his 15 years as superintendent.
“Your legacy in Hoke County will always remain. You have a great legacy in our county. I’ll go further than that. Our community is better because of you,” Leach said. “I have to say that you are leaving our county better than you found it. When you can do that, you have to say well done, very good job.”
Thomas also sent his regards and best wishes to Williamson.
“The majority of the board is here to show you that we support you and love you and we are praying for your continuing success as you go to Robeson County,” the vice chairman said.
Peterkin praised Williamson for his professional leadership and his personal support while Peterkin was seeking his doctoral degree.
“He has been very inspiring to my job as a sheriff, but also my education. I wouldn’t be a doctor today if it weren’t for Dr. Williamson,” Peterkin said.
“This stuff is not easy, especially when you’re trying to work and going to get it. He told me from day one when I decided to go, what it was going to be like, and he kept me going. That was how I was able to get across the line.“
That’s the kind of inspiration that this man gave to Hoke County, Peterkin said.
School board Chairwoman Irish Pickett, and other members of the board praised the departing superintendent for his 15 years of work to improve Hoke County Schools.
“We really do appreciate you. We’re so glad that we had the opportunity for you to lead this school system. As they said before, when you came here, we were faced with a challenge, so many challenges,” Pickett said.
Williamson took on that challenge and helped things turn around, speakers said.
Kirk Lowery of the Hoke Native American Scholarship Association presented Williamson with a plaque as thanks for his support. Established in 2007, the association helps Native American students go to college. The association has given more than $118,000 in scholarships to 92 students.
Williamson thanked the board and the county for their years-long partnership.
“To God be the glory. Our work is not to enlarge ourselves, but wherever we lead, people see how great God is. That’s our work, that’s our challenge,” he said.
The Board of Education has named Dr. Debra Dowless the new superintendent (see related story).