LUMBERTON — Armed with a petition bearing more than 300 signatures, dozens of Fairgrove Middle School students, parents and staff met at the Public Schools of Robeson County central office on Monday to try to persuade the school board to reconsider transferring a principal they credit with turning their school around.
Interim Superintendent Tommy Lowry told the group he would stand by his decision to move Principal Charles Locklear to Rex-Rennert Elementary School, but said he would consult with the board’s attorney, Grady Hunt, on whether the Board of Education could overturn that decision.
“A decision was made and the decision involved numerous principals who were moved last Tuesday night,” Lowry said. “I went through the same situation at Deep Branch. I was at Deep Branch for four years, didn’t want to get moved, but I was moved and sent to a school that needed some help. I didn’t want to leave from there. But, I did what I was supposed to do … . ”
The group first met with Shanita Wooten, the assistant superintendent of Administration and Technology, and then with Peggy Wilkins, the school board member who represents the district that Fairgrove is located in. The meeting with Wilkins lasted 45 minutes.
“This school was on a state takeover list before he got there in 2011,” said Georgette Hunt, a parent and volunteer at Fairgrove, “Test scores have skyrocketed. We have also been given a seed grant and have been recognized by the state since then. He is a pillar in our community now.”
Hunt said a lot of Fairgrove parents are single mothers, and Locklear acted as a father figure for many students.
Niya Dickens, a former student at Fairgrove Middle School, said that she only had Locklear as her principal for one year, but she could see a noticeable difference in the school’s atmosphere. A current student, Halen Hunt, said that “he’s not one to holler, but he’ll keep everyone in line.”
After being delayed by car difficulties, Wilkins entered the board room and field the same question repeatedly — why?
Wilkins made it clear that the superintendent makes the decisions regarding principal assignments, and she could only offer her opinion.
“One of my concerns was moving him when everything was going fine,” Wilkins said.
Several people questioned what board members were elected for if not to take on such issues.
“It doesn’t seem like the board is trying to help us at all. You can’t do anything,” Georgette Hunt said. “We deserve stability and we deserve continuity.”
Wanda Hunt said that her granddaughter’s EC teacher had already said that he was leaving should Locklear be assigned to a different school.
Lowry, responding to a concern that student achievement might decline with Locklear gone, said test scores this year at Fairgrove were down 13 percent from the previous year.
In tears, Georgette Hunt asked Lowry to “please reconsider.” Lowry said that he would be in contact with the attorney and that the group could speak during the public comment portion of the next board meeting.
Wilkins said that the incoming superintendent, Rick Watkins, could move principals at his discretion, but he isn’t expected to start the job until around Aug. 17.
The group plans to send a representative to the next board meeting on Aug. 11 to speak to the board.
Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.