SMITHFIELD – Dr. Eric Bracy was officially sworn in Wednesday to his role as superintendent of Johnston County Public Schools. He was joined by many of his family members, including his wife, Janelle, and his brother, Dr. Elie Bracy III, a Superintendent for Portsmouth Public Schools in Virginia.
Dr. Bracy spoke with Johnston County Report this week and discussed a number of topics including family, education, the reopening of schools, residential growth, and redistricting.
For those who do not know Dr. Eric Bracy, tell us about yourself.
Simply stated, I am a husband, father, son, brother, and a lifelong educator. From my first day as a fourth-grade elementary teacher in 1997 to the present, it has been my reward to educate and provide leadership in the preparation of students for college and careers. At this moment, I am tremendously excited about the possibilities offered in my new role with Johnston County Public Schools.
When you were first hired you spoke frequently about your family and the influence of your family. Can you share the story, how it influenced you, and brought you to where you are today?
I am the son of 2 educators. My mom was a kindergarten teacher and my dad was a high school principal. I had the opportunity to see the impact that they had on our community. Every time that we went out for dinner former students would come over to our table to say hello and thank them for the impact that they had on their life. My mother and father have had great influence on me as an educator. My father taught me the importance of being visible in your community, and my mother taught me what to look for when I enter a classroom. My mother took her role as a teacher seriously. She was a great communicator and relationship builder with students and their families. She used to say great teachers get the best out of their students. As a result of the lessons my parents taught me I prioritize relationship building and communicating.
What are your biggest financial concerns for Johnston County Public Schools?
Just as with families, we have to live within our means. It is too soon for me to comment on the outlook for Johnston County Public Schools finances. I am committed to having a balanced budget as the state requires, there must be transparency in how we operate, and it is essential that we save for future needs. I am sure the Board of Education, Commissioners, and our leadership team will have many candid discussions about finances as we move into the new school year.
There is the perception Johnston County Public Schools is wasting taxpayers money. How can you address those concerns?
That is a perception that is sometimes held about any public entity, including school districts. I start by asking key questions. Do we communicate with our board and community about the needs of the district and are these needs and budget items aligned with our goals? Are we involving stakeholders in determining priorities for our budget? Is there public accountability to ensure that the district is a strong steward of public funds? The public has every right to expect that the district will make sound decisions with the funds entrusted to us. That is also my expectation.
What are your thoughts regarding residential growth in Johnston County when many schools are currently over capacity?
Johnston County Public Schools is not the only, nor the first, district that has to balance growth in communities with school attendance. We have to learn from these other districts what works and put their best practices in place.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a multitude of questions concerning the future of schools and their reopening. What do you envision the “new normal” will look like for Johnston County Public Schools?
At this point, it is preliminary to talk about a new normal until the state issues guidance for opening schools. Just as educators did this past spring, we will adapt as we must and be creative in meeting the needs of students.
Do you anticipate any major personnel changes in the structure of Central Office or the Superintendent’s Cabinet?
It is important for me to meet the staff, learn more about their jobs and strengths, and the needs of the district before considering any changes to the leadership team of Johnston County Public Schools.
Stephen Britt, your chief financial officer in Sampson County, has joined you in Johnston County. Tell us about Stephen and how he can assist you here.
Our new CFO is an experienced finance officer who restructured the finance department, instituted sound financial management processes, and boosted the fund balance in Sampson County. That district faced financial challenges and Stephen helped restore confidence in financial management. He’s a Petty Officer 2nd Class in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves and is simply a top-quality individual.
What are your thoughts on redistricting to balance racial inequities throughout the district?
Redistricting is typically a board-level decision. As an educator, my concern is that every student has equal access to a quality education, no matter where he or she lives in the district. In Sampson County, we provided training for our employees in equity and took steps so more students would have access to higher level classes. This was successful for us in that district.
What prompted you to seek employment with JCPS, with all the negative publicity the district has received in recent months?
As I have said before, I have followed the progress in Johnston County and believe that serving as its superintendent is a good move for me personally and professionally. From my talks with the Board of Education, I believe we share a desire to make this district a model for the state.
Will you have an ‘open door policy’ and be accessible to teachers, parents and the community?
It’s extremely rewarding to be out in schools and the community and have students, parents, and staff engage with me to talk about what’s right and what may need to change in the district. It’s my goal to meet and talk with as many students, staff, parents, and community stakeholders as I can given the current restraints of COVID-19. It has always been my practice to be out in the schools and community on a daily basis.
In closing, what message do you have for Johnston County students, school employees and residents?
We are in this together. It is incumbent upon us to provide students with a top-notch education that will prepare them for successful college and work careers. Students are foremost in my mind and decisions will always be based on what is going to benefit them. I’m eager to begin this new journey.
Chairman Praises New School Leader
On Wednesday, Johnston County School Board Chairman Todd Sutton praised Dr. Bracy for his leadership skills and being able to turn around a school district. Mr. Sutton said Dr. Bracy became superintendent in Sampson County when the district ranked 105th in the state. As of last year, Sampson County Schools ranked 16th in North Carolina in student achievement, Mr. Sutton stated.
Dr. Bracy also left Sampson County Schools this year with a $4 million fund balance.
Today, the NAACP Johnston County Branch released a statement to Johnston County Report saying, “We are extremely happy and excited to welcome Dr. Eric Bracy to Johnston County as our new Superintendent of the Johnston County Public School System. We are encouraged to see a new wave of diversity at the highest level of school administration. We are confident that his leadership will bring the best to all of the schools, students, parents, educators, and the community. We will work with him to make sure his tenure is a success. We hope to get more diversity with all of the staff. We also hope to see an increase (in) equity in the physical facilities. Together, we will move forward.” Dr. Gettys Cohen Jr. is the President of the Johnston County NAACP branch.