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ECPPS looking for turnaround with Edmonds' hiring

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

A month later than scheduled, and following the abrupt resignation of the interim school superintendent, the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education has tapped a new schools chief.

Catherine Edmonds, currently the superintendent of schools in Bertie County, was introduced last week as ECPPS’ new leader following a unanimous vote by the school board. She starts work on July 1, officially replacing Larry Cartner, who resigned last August prior to the start of the current school year.

Edmonds struck all the right chords during her introduction to the community, telling those in attendance at the Sheep-Harney Elementary School auditorium on Monday that “we will work together to put children first in all the decisions that we make.” She also said she plans to listen to students, teachers, parents, retired teachers, and community members for ideas about what’s working in ECPPS and what’s not.

Edmonds also appears to bring strong credentials to her new job. A former math teacher who earned her doctorate in education from N.C. State University, she worked as both a principal and assistant principal in the Granville County Schools. It was her work since leaving Granville, however, that apparently impressed ECPPS school board members. After serving as the instructional improvement officer for the Guilford County Schools, Edmonds led what was known as a “district transformation team” for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in the Halifax County Schools — a consistently low-performing school district. For five years in that role, Halifax’s number of low-performing schools dropped from seven to two, and high school students’ proficiency on end-of-course state testing increased from 40 percent to close to 70 percent. In addition, the high school graduation rate increased by nearly 5 percent.

The hope of achieving those kinds of results in ECPPS, particularly raising student proficiency rates, is no doubt one of the reasons the school board hired Edmonds. Although the district as a whole is no longer designated as low-performing — half its schools no longer are rated “D” or worse on the latest state testing — one of its schools, Pasquotank Elementary, received an “F” grade and two others, P.W. Moore Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle School, received “D” grades.

Despite her record of success in Halifax, and her subsequent jobs as director of educational leadership and development for the University of North Carolina and state director of the N.C. Principal Fellows Program, Edmonds’ appointment nonetheless raised a few eyebrows. That’s because she’s leaving as Bertie’s school superintendent after only a little more than a year in the job.

Asked about her decision to leave Bertie, Edmonds acknowledged she didn’t stay very long. She said she pursued the superintendent’s job here because ECPPS is a larger district and provides her an opportunity to have a broader impact on students and staff. But she also appeared to suggest that the job in Bertie wasn’t the right fit for her. She noted there had been a change of leadership on the Bertie Board of Education and that her predecessor as school superintendent had served an even shorter stint than hers: nine months opposed to what will end up being 16 months for her.

Sharon Warden, chairwoman of the ECPPS Board of Education, downplayed Edmonds’ short tenure in Bertie, suggesting her variety of experiences in education, including her “work with schools needing change,” was a bigger factor in the board’s decision-making.

We’re not too concerned about Edmonds leaving her Bertie job after only a year. In fact, we believe having a younger superintendent, eager to have broader impact, and maybe looking for the next, bigger job, is just what ECPPS needs. That kind of superintendent might be less eager to please, less willing to accept the status quo, and more likely to take the difficult steps that will result in the improved test scores and academic performance our district desperately needs.

Edmonds obviously starts her new job with plenty of challenges besides trying to improve test scores. 

Low teacher morale is a concern. A number of the anonymous staff surveys completed during the district’s recent superintendent search included comments that suggest teachers don’t feel they’re getting the proper resources or support from school administrators, particularly when it comes to enforcing discipline.

Low teacher morale leads directly to another challenge for Edmonds: retaining good teachers. In recent years, the district has started the school year with a large number of teacher vacancies. While some of these non-retirement vacancies are no doubt driven by the opportunity for better pay in other school districts, a number are also the direct result of teachers not feeling respected or supported enough in ECPPS.

Edmonds may also face some lingering resentment from supporters within the district of Joanne Sanders, ECPPS’ former interim superintendent who replaced Cartner when he resigned. Sanders sought the superintendent’s job but then retired abruptly before the search process was completed. Sanders’ supporters may believe she was wronged by not getting the superintendent’s job, and hold that against Edmonds.

We certainly hope not. We take Edmonds at her word that she intends to “work together to put children first in all the decisions” that are made. We urge others to do the same. Our kids’ future depends on Edmonds being successful.

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