The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education has selected its first-ever female superintendent.
During a special called meeting at the Board of Education building on Hanes Mill Road Tuesday morning, school board members announced that Dr. Beverly Emory has been selected to succeed Superintendent Don Martin, who is set to retire June 30. Emory is currently serving as superintendent of Pitt County Schools, whose county seat is Greenville.
Emory, a native of Marion, has nearly two decades’ experience as a superintendent, including her current post, where she has served since 2006. She has also worked as a school administrator, public information officer and teacher.
“Community members made it clear to us … that they wanted a superintendent who would listen to employees, who would ensure that all students are successful,” said Jane Goins, chair of the Board of Education. “Her experience goes far beyond being a superintendent. The breadth and depth of her experience impressed the entire school board. I think our community will find she is an excellent communicator who will be able to inspire our staff and lead our students.”
Vice Chair John Davenport said Emory’s experience in working with diverse groups was a key selling point for him.
“I took seriously what the public said about experience and particularly experience with a diverse group of people. If a candidate did not have successful experience with the minority community, they didn’t even make my list. I wanted to make sure that they would be a fit for this community and be able to work with different parts of this community and relate well,” Davenport said. “She was one who had that experience that was proven.”
Emory listed closing the achievement gap – bringing students who are behind up to par while still challenging the district’s brightest students – among the biggest challenges she anticipates facing at the helm of WS/FCS. The mother of two said she also plans to tackle the graduation rate at “both ends of the spectrum,” by offering high school students who are at risk for dropping out alternatives to help them get back on track, and supporting youngsters in the first three years of education, where many students fall behind. She plans to visit at least one school in the district each Friday, as has been her practice in Pitt County, with the goal of visiting all of the district’s 79 schools by her official hire date on July 1.
“I am very excited about working with all of you,” Emory told community leaders and members of the media Tuesday, during the press conference following the meeting. “…As I have been a superintendent in Ohio and North Carolina, I understand the challenges facing public education, and particularly the teachers … and those 53,000 kids that we serve. No matter where you go, it’s about those kids.”
Dr. Amber Baker, principal of Kimberley Park Elementary School, said she was impressed with what she saw during the press conference. Baker is hopeful Emory will take steps to truly address the achievement gap and the inequities that predominantly minority schools like Kimberley often grapple with.
“She talked about looking at the data and not just being driven by pure choice alone, but looking to see where the achievement gaps are,” Baker said. “I’veoften said that that (choice) can’t be the only thing we look at in trying to determine who goes where.”
Former local NAACP president Stephen Hairston took exception with the school board’s decision not to disclose the names of the finalists to the community, or give citizens the opportunity to weigh in on the top candidates. Though the board did solicit input from citizens and staff via surveys, and received 3,000 responses to that request, Hairston said he remains concerned because Emory is a virtual unknown to the greater community.
“The school board has proven in the past that they don’t have the minority communities at heart,” he said. “She may be a great person – we just don’t know.” Emory told Hairston she would work to win the confidence of the entire community.
“I’m going to do everything that I can to be accessible and to get to know you and to work with you and to earn your trust,” said the Vanderbilt alumna. Dr. Virginia Newell, co-founder of Concerned Citizens for Educational Accountability and Achievement, said she is hopeful that Emory will see fit to address the school choice plan, which she calls “abominable.”
“The poor schools that we’ve got, they are separate, they are segregated and they are low performing,” Newell said. “…We do want a superintendent who is concerned with the kids, with their success and with the teachers, and we should not have just all-black schools.”
Rev. Dr. Carlton Eversley, Concerned Citizens’ co-founder, attended a luncheon with Emory, members of the Forsyth County Commissioners and leaders from other grassroots organizations following the press conference. He said Emory worked closely with one of his former professors – a strong advocate for the education of African American children – in Ohio, which he felt was a “good omen,” especially when coupled with Emory’s experiences in Pitt County, whose population is over 60 percent minority.
“Obviously, I was hoping a person of color would get that job, but I think it is good to break the cycle of only white males leading the schools,” Eversley commented. “She is familiar with dealing with children of color and trying to close the achievement gap, which should be a top priority for any Winston-Salem/Forsyth County superintendent.”
Emory was slated to interact with local residents during a community forum yesterday, following her visit to a half dozen area schools.