On August 27th, the Johnston County School Board voted to hire Dr. James ‘Jim’ F. Causby as the interim superintendent to replace Dr. Ross Renfrow who suddenly retired. Dr. Causby will begin work tomorrow (Sept. 3rd) and has agreed to stay through June 30, 2020 giving the board time to find a permanent replacement for Dr. Renfrow.
Causby is no stranger to Johnston County. He served as superintendent from 1994 to 2004 and during that time, Johnston County Schools received national recognition for system restructuring, character education, total quality education process, and application based learning and student accountability. Dr. Causby also improved test schools from the bottom third to the top 10 percent in North Carolina. He left in 2004 to become Executive Director of the NC Association of School.
Causby was hired in 1994 after serving as the leader of the Polk County School system from 1989 to 1994. From 1979-1989 he was superintendent of Swain County Schools. Early in his education career he was a teacher, coach, and principal on the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Dr. Causby spoke exclusively with JoCoReport about his return to Johnston County Schools on Tuesday, Sept. 3rd. Here are our questions and his answers:
Dr. Causby, you are taking over when there is a lot of distrust of the leadership in Johnston County Schools. What can you do to regain some of the lost trust?
I have experienced about every type of situation that you can find as a school superintendent over 30 years in that role. I have gained trust and respect in every situation. If you treat people right and make decisions that are best for students most people will trust you.
My previous leadership of Johnston County Schools makes me a known commodity to many staff members, parents and community leaders and I believe I already have their trust. I will work hard to gain the trust of those who do not yet know me.
The investigation into Dr. Bennett Jones, the Clayton High Principal, and his transfer to the Central Office is concerning to many Clayton parents. They want him reinstated as their principal. They also say the investigation should be more open and transparent. How do you respond to their concerns?
The only knowledge I have about this situation is what I have read or heard on the news. One of my first priorities as interim superintendent will be to thoroughly review the investigation facts so that I know fully what is being dealt with. Once I have done that I will make a decision on how best to deal with it.
I will not hesitate to take what I find to be the appropriate action. I will share everything that can legally be shared with the public.
Local school leaders (fact or fiction) have a reputation of wasteful spending. What can you do to ensure taxpayers money is spent wisely?
Having worked with school budgets in six different school systems I believe I know the process quite well. The focus of every school budget must be about what is needed and what is best for students. North Carolina’s school financial system is extremely complicated and very difficult to explain, but there must be an open process where the school staff and public are involved and kept informed.
Another of my first priorities will be to thoroughly review the school system’s finances and look for every opportunity to be more thrifty and efficient. You want a school system budget that is efficient but sufficient to provide a high quality education for students. The Johnston County Board of Commissioners has made education funding a top priority and we must use those resources wisely.
You served as JCS Superintendent from 1994 – 2004. What have you been doing since 2004?
Mostly getting older as you can tell from my white hair and abundant facial wrinkles. But I have been very busy during that time. I worked for two years as Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators. Following that was six years as Executive Director of the North Carolina School Superintendents Association where I worked for the 115 local school superintendents in North Carolina.
Much of my work also involved educational consulting and marketing. I did three interim superintendent jobs including Hickory Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and Madison County Schools.
For the last year most of my time has been spent coaching new superintendents and doing volunteer work directed toward improving training and recognition of teachers in North Carolina. I am currently serving as state chair of a steering committee that will present the first North Carolina Beginning Teacher of the Year in December.
When you got the call asking you to return as interim, what was your reaction?
The first thing I did was to discuss it with my wife. After getting her approval I agreed to do it primarily because I love Johnston County and this is almost like an opportunity to go home.
Has the school board given you any directives?
They have not.
You have a reputation of making good decisions, putting students first, and having an open door policy. Will that continue?
I don’t know any other way to be an effective school superintendent, so yes I will make every effort to do those things.
What message do you have for students and their parents?
I have very high expectations for students because I know how highly they can achieve when everyone works together to make it happen. It is my promise to them that I will expect great things from them and I will be their strong advocate. Johnston County Schools is blessed with beautiful and talented students, outstanding school system employees, caring and loving parents, and a community that highly values good education. Efforts during my time here will be directed toward bringing all those things together to focus on what is best for students.
What have you missed the most about Johnston County, something you haven’t found in any other place?
Johnston County is a truly unique place and that uniqueness is difficult to describe. But I think mostly it is about how much people here care about kids. You find that everywhere but I have never seen it to quite the degree you find it in Johnston County. There is a “can do” attitude here that never fails.
For those who don’t know you, tell us about Dr. James Causby?
I am one of the most fortunate people alive. My family is my pride and joy. My wife, June, and I have been married for 51 years and we have three sons, three fantastic daughters-in-law, and five of the most adorable grandchildren (one girl and four boys) in the world. I love Eastern North Carolina BBQ and have to struggle with staying on a healthy diet.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I need everyone’s help!
Causby, 73, is a native of McDowell County, NC. He and his wife, June, now live in Biltmore Lake, NC.
In 2015 he received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of School Administrators. He has been NC Superintendent of the Year a total of three times. He received the North Carolina Outstanding Educator Award by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Razor Walker Award by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
Dr. Causby is a past recipient of the Smithfield-Selma Citizen of the Year Award, twice featured by the News & Observer as Tarheel of the Week, and was selected as one of the top 100 superintendents in the United States.
Causby is an experienced keynote speaker and consultant with keynote addresses presented in 47 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, England and Israel. He received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by NC Governor Mike Easley. He holds degrees in business administration, elementary education, and educational administration.