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School board delays vote on supt. search

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Alamance-Burlington school board members agreed this week to postpone a decision about whether to hire an outside recruiting firm to conduct the search for the next superintendent of ABSS.

Outgoing superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson announced on September 30 that he’d requested an early release from his employment contract, nearly four years prior to its scheduled expiration on June 30, 2025. School board members voted 7-0 to accept Benson’s resignation at the conclusion of their meeting Monday night.

School board member Ryan Bowden renewed his earlier suggestion that the board could conduct its own search for Benson’s successor, which he said could give ABSS staff and Alamance County residents more of a say in the process.

While Bowden emphasized that he has “no issues whatsoever” with BWP & Associates – which his fellow school board members appeared to be leaning toward during an earlier discussion – he said he thinks the board is capable of conducting its own search, with community input.

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“My recommendation would be to form an Alamance County superintendent search [committee] similar to the way we did [with] our strategic plan,” Bowden said Monday night.

“I just wanted to put that out there, but I do want to see a process that’s open.” He suggested that perhaps the superintendent search committee could include ABSS principals from each grade level, as well as teachers, parents, representatives from community organizations, a school board member, and county government officials.

“Me personally, I would like to see someone as our next superintendent who has roots in Alamance County, who has a vested interest in this community, who we’re going to see at football games on Friday night,” Bowden added. “At this stage, I cannot and will not support any of the two search firms that have been presented to us.”

School board members heard presentations last month by two firms offering to conduct the superintendent search for ABSS: Illinois-based BWP & Associates, which conducted the search that led to Benson’s hiring in 2018; and the North Carolina School Boards Association, which conducted searches that led to hiring Lillie Cox as superintendent in 2011 and Randy Bridges in 2006.

“I appreciate, Ryan, your thoughtfulness you put toward this,” school board member Allison Gant responded, adding, “but there’s a huge list of responsibilities.” She said she would like Bowden to give more detail on what the committee would do. “There’s just a lot I’m concerned about that, if we take this on as a board, could get missed,” Gant explained. “It has been shown if you do an open search you don’t always get great candidates. I do think there have been people [who] have been involved in our district in the past who could be great leaders. I’m a little nervous about not having some professional [guidance] through that.”

School board vice chairman Patsy Simpson agreed with both sides. “This will be my fourth or fifth search; I do understand what Ryan is saying about being more involved and that we utilize the community. We know we need a superintendent in place by the beginning of the next school year.”

Simpson suggested that maybe the board could consider a hybrid search process, in which BWP & Associates would conduct the reference checks, social media screenings, criminal background checks, and other recruiting legwork, “so we as a board really have an opinion – the seven of us,” she said. “I think Elon [University] and Alamance Community College did a version of this when they hired their president.”

Two motions were initially introduced Monday night to begin the search. School board member Wayne Beam’s motion to hire BWP & Associates to conduct the superintendent search failed 3-4, with Gant and school board member Tony Rose joining Beam. Voting against Beam’s motion to hire BWP & Associates were: Simpson, Bowden, Donna Westbrooks, and school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves.

For her part, Westbrooks clarified that the only reason she was voting against hiring BWP & Associates is that she didn’t know enough to make an informed decision, either way.

Though Simpson had introduced a subsequent motion to hire BWP – but limit its scope of work in a way that would enable public participation – she quickly withdrew it, based on the board’s consensus that more discussion is needed.

School board members agreed to delay a vote that had been scheduled Monday night until they can meet again to discuss the next steps for the superintendent search.

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