Group Claims Johnston County Public Schools Lack Minority Administrators

Reginald Holley, a member of the Johnston County Education Summit, addresses the Johnston County School Board on May 14th. Holley and his group contend Johnston County Schools lack minority administrators. Photo

Only 4 of top 84 positions are held by African Americans
Only 3 African-American High School Principals Hired By JCS In Last 50 Years Group Claims  

A group of concerned citizens says Johnston County Public Schools are marginalizing African-American professionals and the practice needs to stop.

The Johnston County Education Summit says they have researched the administration of Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow and believes his administration “not only places little value on African-American professionals but severely undermines any efforts to achieve diversity throughout the school system.”  The Summit is an informal think tank focused on student development and education achievement and includes two former school board members, local attorneys, clergy, business and civic leaders.

Reginald Holley, a spokesperson for the Johnston County Education Summit, appeared before the Johnston County School Board on April 9th and again on May 14th expressing concerns.  Holley was not allowed to present his prepared remarks during Public Comments on May 14th because school officials claimed his speech contained personnel information. Mr. Holley was only allowed to present a portion of his speech but he shared his full speech and all of his concerns with after the meeting.

“Since its inception, the Summit has conducted a series of study meetings, including talks with Dr. Renfrow, Chairman (Mike) Wooten, Board member Ronald Johnson and just recently Dr. Peggy Smith. These discussions have related to the ongoing marginalization of African American leaders in the Superintendent’s Administration and the appalling exclusion of African Americans among traditional High School principalships,” Holley said. “We find most disturbing that the ongoing marginalization of African American professionals in our Johnston County School system not only places little value on African American professionals but severely undermines any efforts to achieve diversity through the school system.”

Dr. Robert O’Neal, pastor of O’Neal Revival Tabernacle in the Corinth Holders community is also member of the Johnston County Education Summit that formed earlier this year.  “Over the last few months we’ve been looking at school integration in Johnston County to see what type of progress has been made.”

Specifically Mr. Holley, Dr. O’Neal and other members of the Education Summit contend that under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Renfrow, of the top 84 administrators in Johnston County Schools, only 4 are African American.

“Looking at the makeup up of the Board and administrators, we tout ourselves as a County where we’re trying to prepare our students globally for the world. It needs to start at a local level and it doesn’t appear to be sincere.  It looks good on paper but when we look back over the past few decades, it’s not there. If we’re talking about one generation I can understand, but here we are 50 years later, and even though we’ve made some progress in the middle school area and in the primary grades, there is nothing that shows we are trying to present that picture in the higher professional levels of principalships.”

Dr. O’Neal claims that during the last 50 years, Johnston County Schools has only had 3 African American high school principals. Currently there are none. “For some reason we stop at the middle school level and even those African American professionals don’t remain in those jobs. They are not promoted. They will actually be transferred to a lateral position. The administration gives then an option to go to the Central Office and it’s like their position is buried there among just a few minorities.”

As for job advancement at the Central Office, Dr. O’Neal contends it doesn’t happen. “That they would actually ever get to see a higher position, every picture they look at is bleak.  I can understand this in the 60s and 70s but now we’re talking about close to 2020. Its tells me the school board is not sincere about reflecting the demographics of the people.”

The Johnston County Education Summit says that 17 percent of the student body in Johnston County Schools is African American. Another 15 percent is Hispanic.  “That equates to one-third of the school population. We should be coming close to that number (in administrators).”  For every percentage of minorities at the bottom of the scale, it’s not reflected at the top of the scale. It’s just not happening. For some reason we can’t get there,” Dr. O’Neal said Tuesday.  “We want the board to know it’s time for a change.”

Dr. O’Neal said many Johnston County schools are performing poorly. “We can do better.”

School Response
In response to the concerns expressed by the Johnston County Education Summit, School Board Vice Chair Dr. Peggy Smith told JoCoReport, “JCPS continues to stay engaged with all groups that have concerns about leadership and employment.  JCPS knows the importance of our employee base representing the demographics of our student population. Our Department of Human Capital works hard each and every day interviewing, promoting, developing and recruiting qualified applicants and employees to insure diversity.”

Board Chairman Mike Wooten thanked the organization for their feedback. “We are so appreciative of the input of the Education Summit.  The administration and Board are committed to responding to the concerns, to soliciting the help of the Summit to recruit and retain underrepresented population leaders and is working to address the issues raised by the Summit.”

School board member Ronald Johnson released the following statement. “I believe in a true meritocracy, where people are promoted based on skill, achievement, and ability. I want the most qualified and capable employees working for Johnston County Public Schools. We need to retain and attract these employees to our organization and motivate them to apply for leadership positions. We need to create a culture that appreciates the efforts of all employees, increase efficiency and competency when it comes to implementing curriculum from Central Office, and make Johnston County Public Schools a place educators want to work. If we do that, it will attract the best candidates and help all people, not just one group.

“I would never devalue someone based on race or ethnicity, but I’m not going to put someone on a pedestal based on those same factors. I will always make decisions based on the content of someone’s character, not the color of their skin. If you hire someone or do not hire someone, solely based on their race, it is wrong, short sided, unproductive, and illegal.  I have only been on the board for a little over two years. I don’t think anyone can argue that I have contributed to this marginalization. I’ve stood against policies and actions that marginalize students and staff from all backgrounds and ethnicities.”

“When it comes to marginalization, my major concerns are the children who’ve been marginalized by many impotent policies and conflicts. For example, the mascot change which took resources away from teachers and prevented them from impacting change in a school where the student body is largely populated by minorities. It was a waste of time, money, and energy,” Johnson stated.

“Personally, I thought I had a great meeting with Mr. Holley and Rev. O’Neal. I won’t go into any detail because I only speak for me. I conveyed to them my goal is to help all employees, but more importantly, my focus will always be on the students,” Johnson said.  “While we talk about how much we appreciate each other, how we look forward to working together, and as we move forward to a resolution, there is still a large group of students suffering and not achieving. I will keep these students and the people who educate them as my primary focus because their struggles will always be what are most important to me.”

Crystal Roberts, Chief of Communication and Engagement for Johnston County Schools is the only minority on Dr. Renfrow’s cabinet. When asked about the Education Summit organizations concerns, she replied in an email, “As a member of Dr. Renfrow’s Cabinet, it is a privilege to serve in a professional capacity that affords me the opportunity to contribute to this district’s—and ultimately—our students’ success. I am proof that Dr. Renfrow is committed to increasing diversity.”