Op-Ed: The School Board Recordings Begin To Surface

Op-Ed By: Anita Bland
Clayton citizen and concerned parent of Clayton High School

While the Covid-19 pandemic has occupied much of the county’s thoughts and concerns, I feel strongly that there is another unresolved situation that needs immediate attention. In just two weeks, Johnston County should hear the name of our next JCPS Board of Education Superintendent. While we can be excited to have a fresh start with a reentry to our classrooms in August, we have work to do to restore the reputation of the Johnston County School System.

On March 10, 2020, Paul Yates and I stood before the JCPS Board of Education to present our frustration with one of the Board members, Ms. Tracie Zukowski.  Mr. Yates’ statements referenced unacceptable behavior by Ms. Zukowski in her duties as a liaison to Clayton High School and asked for her resignation from the Board. His assertions of her inappropriate and damaging actions were followed by my request for recordings of just some of her derogatory statements which we believed to be in the possession of her fellow Board member, Ronald Johnson. I am still being asked to share the information in the recordings and as we prepare for a new direction for JCPS, now is the time. It’s time for us to explain ourselves and to reveal what we know about Tracie Zukowski as a Board of Education member and her unethical behavior.

Our frustrations with Ms. Zukowski began in the spring of 2019 and have continued without full resolution. As most of Johnston County is aware, Clayton High School and Dr. Bennett Jones became the topic of news reports all over the state while multiple investigations were taking place into accusations of inappropriate activities. As a result, although investigations were still ongoing, Dr. Jones was first told to stay away from the CHS campus and then was transferred to Choice Plus. Students, parents, and staff begged for information, clarification, and restoration. A protest to restore Dr. Jones to his post as principal originated by the student body. Immediately, the students were joined by concerned parents who wanted not only Clayton’s principal restored, but to have the accusations and allegations against the school and Dr. Jones cleared.

During this time of tremendous anxiety, frustration, and confusion surrounding our school, it would have seemed appropriate and responsible for our school liaison, Tracie Zukowski, to be engaged in representing our CHS staff and students to both the superintendent and to the cabinet members. We needed her to be present as a reassurance to both our principal and our staff that due process would prevail and that the truth would be discovered. Instead she was silent and distant. What we did not know at the time, is that instead of being an advocate for our school and community, she was working concertedly to undermine our actions and our community.

So, while rumors, unfounded accusations, and hyperbole have been widely circulated about Clayton High School across the county, let’s shed light on what we do know. Unfortunately, it is now abundantly clear that Ms. Zukowski had no positive interest in the restoration of our principal’s status or in the representation of our students, staff members, parents, and community members.

  • We now know that once she was told that Dr. Jones was being reinstated, she committed collusion by contacting teachers in an effort to persuade them to transfer to other schools.
  • We now know that she attempted to persuade Dr. Causby to change his mind about his decision to reinstate Dr. Jones through an insinuation that the Johnston County Commissioners would not assist with the budget deficit if Dr. Jones returned to CHS.
  • We now know that after taking her seat on the Board of Education, Ms. Zukowski continued to promote Freckle, her employer, during May, June, and July of 2019, to Johnston County principals for her personal financial gain through bonuses based on division sales.
  • We now know Ms. Zukowski’s disdain for Dr. Jones developed after she suspected that he blew the whistle last summer on her conflict of interest with Freckle.
  • We now know that Tracie Zukowski has met with principals to disparage other Board members and communicated with teachers to disparage principals.
  • We now know that the public statement released by JCPS on September 13, 2019 stating 13 students who were reported as graduates without meeting requirements was done in an attempt to disparage Dr. Jones; in fact, four of the students never received a diploma and the other nine met all graduation requirements prior to receiving their diplomas. We also know that Ms. Zukowski has repeatedly prevented the release of a statement which would clear CHS and Dr. Jones regarding these students.
  • We now know that she held the parents and students lead by Kim Winslow who took up the CHS cause and began to protest, in absolute contempt.

As Ms. Zukowski is fond of saying, “what happens in the dark, comes out in the light.”

This recording, just one of the recordings delivered by Ronald Johnson, documents a conversation that Tracie Zukowski had with Ronald Johnson on October 3, 2019. This was just after Mr. Johnson and two other board members were informed that Dr. Causby had decided to reinstate Dr. Jones as the principal of CHS. Her reaction as CHS liaison is shocking.

This audio was recorded at a local business. To protect and ensure the privacy of individuals and children in the public location, portions of this audio have been muted. 
Caution: Some people may find language in this audio disturbing

So many may ask why we still fight when Dr. Bennett Jones has been returned to his post at CHS.

  • We fight because in spite of the truth being submitted to DPI and to NCHSAA, Ms. Zukowski has blocked the release of a formal publication of exoneration of Dr. Jones, Hunter Jenks, and the CHS guidance counselors, teachers, and students.
  • We fight because we have students who graduated in 2019 and who will graduate in 2020 who deserve to stand proud of their achievements at CHS. They want everyone to know that they earned their diplomas through hard work and accomplishment.
  • We fight because in 2020-2021, when we walk into any stadium, onto any field, court or course, and into any gym our athletes deserve to be recognized as qualified competitors.
  • We fight because our elected leaders need to be held accountable for their actions, especially when their actions work to serve their own personal interests in lieu of the best interests of the constituents they were elected to serve.

As such, due to the lack of representation as our liaison from the Summer of 2019 through present; because of her attempts to sabotage the recovery of CHS through the manipulation of school staff; because of her refusal to allow a change of liaison despite multiple requests; because of Ms. Zukowski’s rejection of attempts by Ms. Winslow to engage in reconciliatory meetings; because of the contempt she has exhibited towards the Clayton community; and because of her actions of back door sabotage, collusion, and racketeering attempts that are too numerous to be captured in one op-ed piece, we asked for the resignation of Tracie Zukowski from the Johnston County Board of Education. To be clear, we still do.

Note: Mrs. Bland says this is the first of many recordings that will be released.