Interim superintendent outlines his plans for first 30 days back in ABSS

The Alamance-Burlington school system’s interim superintendent, Dr. Bill Harrison, outlined his initial plans as interim in an interview with The Alamance News shortly after he was sworn into office Monday morning (see related story this edition:

After school board members voted 7-0 to hire him as the interim superintendent, Harrison took his seat at the center of the school board’s dais and announced he would start work that morning.

His top priority is to “make sure we do for the children of this district what they deserve [and to ensure] they all get the same education and opportunities that I would want for my own children,” Harrison said following the board’s vote.

Aside from developing a county budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, Harrison told The Alamance News his first order of business is “getting the lay of land” by meeting with principals, assistant principals, and other ABSS leaders to learn what they think are the school system’s strengths and weaknesses – as well as “what they expect of me as their interim leader.”

“I’m working on a 30-day plan [rather than] a 100-day plan,” Harrison told the newspaper, alluding to the 100-day plan many executives use to navigate through their first few months in a new role.

Harrison, now 71, had come out of retirement in February 2015 to lead ABSS following the tumultuous departure of another superintendent, Dr. Lillie Cox, who resigned after three years at the helm.  He eventually helped to lead the development of a high school redistricting plan that school board members adopted in 2017 (and later revised at Butler’s direction in 2022) and put together the $150 million bond package that voters approved for ABSS in November 2018.

 Harrison again retired from his nearly 40-year career in public education in May 2018 but has continued to work as a K-12 public education consultant, most recently with Chapel Hill-based Participate Learning, he confirmed for the newspaper Monday.


Legislative investigation expected to wrap up by the end of this month

In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves acknowledged the challenges facing ABSS in the near term.

“We’ve got to get a handle on where we are [with our finances] for this fiscal year, in addition to re-engaging our staff and community and focusing on academics,” Ellington-Graves told the newspaper.  “It’s hard to establish our budget when we don’t even know where we are for this moment.  We’re hoping to have some solid information from GovOps by the end of this month.”

The group that Ellington-Graves referenced is the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations (“Gov Ops”) that state senator Amy Galey, who represents Alamance and Randolph counties in the General Assembly, had asked to investigate the system’s policies and financial decisions on February 5.

“I haven’t heard anything from GovOps,” Ellington-Graves revealed in the interview.

However, Mark Winters, a retired chief finance officer from Wake County public schools who agreed last month to assist the school system’s finance department following the abrupt departure of then-CFO Kim McVey, has provided an update to the school system’s administration, according to the school board’s chairman.

“Mark Winters [the retired CFO from Wake County] indicated it would be the end of March that they would have everything completed and have a much clearer picture of where we are financially,” Ellington-Graves said Monday.

Among the immediate next steps that the school board faces is deciding what process will be used to recruit a permanent superintendent, Ellington-Graves acknowledged.  Part of that discussion could focus on whether the board should hold public forums to introduce finalists to the community – or continue waiting, as previous boards have – until the selection has been made to announce the identity of the next superintendent.

By comparison, Alamance Community College’s trustees have held public forums to introduce their finalists for the president’s job prior to the hiring of Dr. Algie Gatewood in July 2013 and the hiring of Dr. Ken Ingle in December 2023.