Cartner resigns as superintendent of ECPPS
By Reggie Ponder
Monday, August 13, 2018
Larry Cartner resigned as superintendent of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools on Monday, just two weeks before the start of the new school year.
The ECPPS Board of Education voted unanimously Monday morning to accept Cartner’s resignation, which takes effect on Sept. 30.
The board then voted to name Joanne Sanders, the district’s chief academic officer, as acting superintendent.
Prior to both votes, the board met in closed session for about 15 minutes with school administrators and school district department heads. The closed session was held at Montero’s Restaurant in conjunction with a previously scheduled training day for administrators.
Immediately after the two votes board member Buck Jolly asked to speak to the gathered school administrators.
“We are going to do great things this year,” Jolly said.
In a press release later on Monday, ECPPS officials stated Sanders’ appointment as acting superintendent was “effective immediately and until further notice.” According to the release, Cartner may take leave though Sept. 30 but will be available to consult with the board as needed.
“We would like to thank (Cartner) for his service to the board of education, to Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, and to our community,” the board stated in the press release.
The board’s press release didn’t state why Cartner was resigning now, only two weeks before the start of the new school year on Aug. 27. The release said the board is “committed to continuing the positive progress” the district has made. It also said the board is “fully dedicated to serving our community in a civic, professional and transparent manner as we work through the process of attaining and maintaining the highest ethical standards.”
Cartner, who came to ECPPS in 2015 from a job with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Asked about the press release’s reference to “maintaining the highest ethical standards,” ECPPS spokeswoman Tammy Sawyer said it did not imply any kind of deficiency in ethical standards.
"There has not been any ethical breach by Superintendent Cartner," Sawyer said Monday. "The board included that statement as an assurance to the community that they, as a Board, would continue to attain and maintain the highest ethical standards as a Board in accordance with Policy 2120. It was not a reflection on the superintendent."
Neither Board of Education Chairwoman Sharon Warden nor Vice Chairman Denauvo Robinson would discuss the reasons for Cartner’s resignation. Both referred a reporter to the board’s press release.
"We appreciated his service, and that's about all I can tell you about it," Robinson said.
District officials said although the board has accepted his resignation, it has not yet approved a final resignation agreement with Cartner, which will include more detailed terms of his resignation. Approval of that agreement is expected to take place at a meeting later this month.
Cartner’s sudden resignation seemed to catch a number of local officials off-guard.
Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Cecil Perry expressed surprise at Cartner's resignation, praising his job performance even as he acknowledged ECPPS needs further improvement.
"I thought things were fine," Perry said Monday afternoon, referring to the school district.
When state testing results were announced last fall, ECPPS was designated a “low-performing” school district because half its schools were designated at grade “D” or below. P.W. Moore Elementary School was assigned a grade of “F” in the state’s report.
At the time of the test scores’ release last fall the school district had already opted to place four schools in designated reform models. P.W. Moore Elementary School and Elizabeth City Middle School were selected for the “transformation” model while Pasquotank Elementary School and River Road Middle School were placed in the “restart model,” which allows a greater flexibility in areas such as scheduling and budgeting.
For the 2018-19 school year P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle have been switched to restart at the request of school improvement teams at those schools.
Perry said he was satisfied with Cartner’s job performance. Cartner did a lot for the school system even though some schools' performance may not have improved, Perry said.
"I think he's done well with what he's had and what he's had to deal with," Perry said, also noting Cartner ran ECPPS as competition increased from the Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies and other charter schools. Cartner often noted to commissioners that ECPPS received funding it had to transfer to charter schools, not use for its own students.
Perry especially praised Cartner for hiring and promoting African Americans within ECPPS, explaining he felt blacks haven't always gotten the opportunities — and salaries — they deserved in public education.
Elizabeth City Mayor Bettie Parker, a retired educator and former Pasquotank commissioner, also expressed surprise that Cartner was resigning, though she said she had been hearing rumors.
Parker said she, too, thought Cartner was doing a good job. She also noted it's unusual for a superintendent to resign shortly before a school year starts.
Bill Sterritt, vice chairman of the Pasquotank Board of Commissioners, called Cartner's resignation a "loss to the community," praising his years of experience in public education. He credited Cartner with securing a grant to help start up the early college at College of The Albemarle.
However, Sterritt also said he knew Cartner was facing a challenging, stressful job, and encouraged him to retire.
"He needs a vacation," Sterritt said.
Pasquotank Commissioner Jeff Dixon, a board member of the NEAAAT charter school, said he, too, was satisfied with Cartner’s performance. He credited Cartner with pursuing not only the early college, but the "1:1 Initiative" that's put tablet computers in most ECPPS students' hands. Dixon said he and other commissioners strongly supported expanding classroom technology.
In one "negative," however, he said NEAAAT administrators often found it difficult to get Cartner to release funding to them. It's clear Cartner dislikes the charter school, Dixon said.
Commissioner Joe Winslow said he was "shocked" to learn Cartner resigned. He said Cartner faced an "uphill course" in trying to improve ECPPS, but had seen some successes.
In neighboring Camden County, schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell said Cartner had been supportive since Ferrell arrived in Camden this past fall.
“I knew Dr. Cartner prior to coming to this area and when I arrived, he immediately reached out to offer his support to me as the new superintendent in Camden,” Ferrell said. “There were several different times over the last year that I have reached out to him for advice and he has been very helpful and supportive. I am sorry to see him leave the position here and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Staff Writer Jon Hawley contributed to this report.