Search For New Sampson County Superintendent Begins

Hiring Of Dr. Eric Bracy By Johnston County Public Schools Leaves Sampson County Public Schools With Vacancy 

CLINTON – Sampson County Public Schools already faced a busy summer with trying to figure out how to reopen campuses in August amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Searching for a new superintendent added another item on its to-do list.

Dr. Eric Bracy recently accepted the superintendent position in neighboring Johnston County, leaving open a key vacancy at SCPS for the first time in six years. With schools slated to open Aug. 17, initial plans are to focus on bringing in an interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is found.

Dr. Wendy Cabral, the district’s assistant superintendent, said bridging the gap with an interim is a common practice among school districts as the process normally takes several months.

“Typically, the interim is a retired superintendent,” Cabral said. “Most of the time the interim is a retired person who comes in because no one in our office can add that to their plate and do it well. You bring in someone with experience who can keep the ship moving while everyone does their job. I don’t know what the board will do, but that’s typically what happens.”

Bracy left the district in a good place, as testing and finances improved in recent years. The board of education and its attorney conduct the hiring process with the help of the North Carolina School Board Association. Once the SBA develops a list of possibilities, Cabral said candidates undergo extensive interviews and reference checks, which takes time. Bracy accepted the job in September six years ago and didn’t officially start until January 2014. Contract clauses for superintendents allow districts to keep its current superintendent up to 90 days before they can leave for a new position unless a mutual agreement is reached.

“It’s normally a four to six month process,” said Cabral. “It just depends and often is how soon that person can be released from their contract. July 1 starts our new school year so it was a good time for [Bracy] to leave from that perspective. In the time he was there, we definitely saw an improvement in student performance and our budget situation. In the last six years he did a lot of great things.”

Sampson County Public Schools created a re-entry team focused with developing three strategies for students returning to schools. The state directed districts to develop and submit safe reopening plans by the end of the month with little guidance from the CDC or North Carolina health officials.

“We don’t know what it’s going to look like and is all the more reason why we need a leader in that position, even in the interim,” Cabral said. “School districts have to have three plans from minimum to maximum. We have a re-entry team that is working on that. The team has met with students, parents, teachers, business owners, community shareholders, administrators to get input on what would work best. We’re going to make it work.”

Teachers across the state received a crash-course in remote learning this past semester. The challenge moving forward, Cabral said, is taking what they’ve learned and finding ways to adjust on the fly in an unpredictable learning environment.

“For any superintendent, the task is figuring out what education looks like with COVID-19 daily,” said Cabral. “What we face is if there is a positive case in the school, we may have to shut the school down for a period of time while disinfecting takes place. We have to be able to quickly move from some sort of face-to-face learning to remote instruction with quick changes. Our staff did some of that this year and they very much rose to the occasion. They will make it work next year with whatever the state decides it has to look like.”

The re-entry team explored several areas of concern regarding the virus, including school buses, cafeterias and classrooms.

-Dunn Daily Record