First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - It looks like Superintendent Colin Armstrong, whose last day of work for the Public Schools of Robeson County is scheduled for June 30, won't be getting much time off.
He will begin work as schools superintendent of the Muskegon Public Schools in Michigan on July 1.
Armstrong has signed a three-year contract for $177,000 a year, but coupled with a monthly travel allowance and other expenses, his annual salary comes to $186,000. He will receive a laptop computer and six weeks of paid vacation. He is making about $130,000 a year in his current job.
But money wasn't foremost on Armstrong's mind.
“The job had a certain appeal in that it put us closer to our grandchildren … and financially it was very attractive,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong is a native of Burlington, Ontario, in Canada, where his grandchildren now live.
“It's right on Lake Michigan and is a five-hour drive to Burlington,” he said. “From here we have to fly and that makes for a long day.”
The Muskegon school board voted to offer him a contract on March 27, but Armstrong, 58, kept it quiet until after the Robeson school board found his replacement. Johnny Hunt, an educator and chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, has been hired to succeed Armstrong.
“I am really pleased,” Armstrong said. “It's a different set of challenges. It mirrors, in some ways, to the challenges in Robeson County considering it is not an affluent area and the fact the students there are economically disadvantaged.”
The Muskegon school system is smaller than Robeson's, with 10 schools - only one of which is a high school - and 5,600 students. Robeson has 41 schools, six of which are high schools, and 24,000 students. About 70 percent of the students in the Muskegon system are black.
Muskegon is 20 miles west of Grand Rapids, where Armstrong was one of two finalists for the superintendent's position. William Ashley, a Muskegon school board member, said his board kept track of Armstrong after he was bypassed in Grand Rapids.
“We were very impressed with his leadership style and his belief in education,” Ashley said. “He and his wife are the type of people who have the same values that we have.”
Board Chairman Charles Poole said Armstrong's experience distinguished him from the other 23 applicants.
Armstrong was the associate director of the Waterloo School District in Ontario before coming to Lumberton in 2003. With more than 30 years of experience in education, he has been a finalist for superintendent jobs in California, Maryland and Virginia and had received an offer from a four-year university in North Carolina.
“He made an excellent impression upon the total school board,” Poole said.
The board voted 6 to 0 to hire Armstrong two days after his interview.
“He is a very principled individual with seemingly the experience in the job as superintendent that we are looking for,” Poole said. “He has been exposed to other cultures and ethical backgrounds that we feel provides him with the understanding and sensitivity that we need.”
Two members of the Robeson County school board applauded the hire.
“I am sure he will be successful,” said Millicent Nealy. “He is a terrific educator who believes in empowering people to get the job done, which benefits the kids. He is a person who works from the grass-roots and is very involved in the students. He wants the students to know him.”
Brenda Fairley offered similar sentiments.
“I am always glad to see educators continue to advance in their field of endeavors,” she said. “I applaud him in his efforts of what he's done for the students and staff in moving our system forward and I look forward to working with our new superintendent, Mr. Johnny Hunt.”
There is the possibility that Armstrong's tenure with the Public Schools of Robeson County could end before June 30. He has told the board he would welcome a contract buyout if the board believes that will help smooth the transition.
A buyout could be discussed Monday night, but it's unclear if there is enough support on the board for that to happen.