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Written and Contributed by Rodney Smith

When I worked with Dr. Peggy Hester at West Bladen, she instilled in me this phrase, “What is the purpose?”  For her, everything must be purposeful, intentional if you will.  Every decision must be predicated with an intention or objective.  In other words, there must be concrete research and data before any decision can or should be realized.

Like many of you, I was aghast when I heard that Dr. Hester was told that she would no longer be the principal at West Bladen High School.  She was abruptly told that she was being transferred to Elizabethtown Middle School.  At first, I was stunned, numb to the thought that Dr. Hester would no longer be at West Bladen.  Then her words, “purposeful intention” resonated in my psyche.  What was the purpose of the move to Elizabethtown Middle School?

Why would a principal who has improved the educational climate and culture of a high school be uprooted and moved to a middle school?  Most of Dr. Hester’s 20 plus years of her educational background had been at the high school not a middle school level.  What would be the motivation of Dr. Jason Atkinson?  What data and research did he present to the board and/or the stakeholders before presenting his rationale for the move?  My second thought was Joyce Spencer, current principal at ETMS, has guided her school to achieve significant academic success, why would she be moved to an elementary school?  Again, what empirical research did Dr. Atkinson present before the board in making this impromptu determination.

What would be the purpose/intent of relocating two (2) successful principals to different schools?  Dr. Atkinson would have you believe that he was moving Dr. Hester so that he could curtail the state taking over Elizabethtown Middle School, but wasn’t Elizabethtown Middle making strides to improve?  Could the real purpose arise from a school board policy Dr. Atkinson did not agree with?  A board policy that I remind you that, Dr. Hester as the principal is dutifully bound to enforce.  Was the purpose of the superintendent, Dr. Jason Atkinson, to support Dr. Hester’s decision, or was it to act in a vindictive capricious manner reminiscent of a toxic work environment?

My next thought was how can nine elected board members not act to thwart an obvious error of judgment from Dr. Atkinson?  Did the Bladen County Board of Education bother to investigate the situation and what data did they utilize to justify the personnel changes?  Some might even question, was the purpose of the elected board of education members sole existence to rubber stamp Dr. Atkinson’s decision without thought or ramifications of their actions?  If that is the case, what is the purpose of the Board of Education?  Is its purpose to abdicate its authority and turn control over to one individual who makes resolutions that are irresponsible. An individual who has not presented one shred of data to support his decision to the district, the community, and the stakeholders of both Elizabethtown Middle School and/or West Bladen High School.

What is the board’s purpose? According to the NC Board policy and the North Carolina State Superintendent’s office one of the directives the local school board is charged is to receive and act on personnel recommendations from the superintendent.  Tonight, your purposeful action and resolve will be made crystal clear to the citizens of Bladen County.  So, once again I ask you yet again, what is your purpose here tonight? Is it  to endorse Dr. Jason Atkinson’s ruling or to thoughtfully reconsider a personnel move that if not altered will impact both West Bladen High School and Elizabethtown Middle School negatively?

Rodney Smith

Retired Bladen County schools and district office

Smith read the letter to the board on June 10th, 2024.

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