Johnston County’s new superintendent of schools spent his first day on the job handing out books to children and planning his tenure in one of North Carolina’s largest school systems.
Ross Renfrow took part in a Read Across America tour on Tuesday, delivering books to students at Clayton High School, McGee’s Crossroads Middle School and Benson, West Smithfield and Micro-Pine Level elementary schools.
Renfrow, a Johnton County native and 24-year school system employee, said his goal was to grow and improve the school system he grew up in – and in which he’s rearing his own children.
“I’m invested in it,” Renfrow said after dropping in on Micro-Pine Level Elementary, his last stop on the reading tour. “I’ve had two daughters come through the system. I have one son who is a fifth-grader.”
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“I’m just like any other parent,” he said. “I want the best education for my student that I can possibly get. That’s what we’re compelled to do on a daily basis – provide that quality education.”
Renfrow knows success isn’t guaranteed. “We either get better or we get worse,” he said. “Nothing stays the same. And in the transition process of how we get better, I think it’s important that we listen to our stakeholders.”
Those stakeholders are students, their parents, teachers and staff, Renfrow said. On Tuesday, the newly-minted superintendent said he’d already heard some of their biggest concerns, especially about his job.
“They want a superintendent that is open, honest, transparent, supportive and one that’s a good communicator,” he said.
Renfrow said he expects those same qualities of all school system employees.
“Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful organization,” he said. “Communication has to be clear. It can be as simple as how a teacher interacts with a parent.”
The goal, Renfrow said, is to partner students and parents with caring, compassionate and competent teachers. “That’s how we get better in Johnston County schools,” he said.
As a longtime Johnston educator and resident, Renfrow said he’s seen the schools and the county change. And while he said it’s good to acknowledge past successes, Renfrow said he’s ready to confront present school system needs while trying to anticipate and plan for the future.
“It’s important to reflect on where we are at now and celebrate those things that are working and the things we are most proud of,” Renfrow said. “But just as important is identifying the things that aren’t working at an optimum level so we can enhance, tweak, change and restructure those items so that we can provide better service to our students, our teachers and our parents.”
As one of the fastest-growing school districts in the nation and one of the 10 largest in the state, Renfrow said, Johnston schools needs to be prepared for continued growth.
“If you’re not growing, then you’re dying,” he said. “So what a great opportunity it is to have to grow and build schools. I know some people view those as problematic because it costs money, but I think the alternative is much, much sadder than the opportunity that growth presents.”
As the district continues to grow, Renfrow said he wants to continue the small-district feel he thinks the system has, and he said the way to accomplish that is through building relationships with students and parents.
“For us to get better, we have to partner with our parents; we’re a team,” Renfrow said. “Being a parent is as hard today as it ever has been, with all the choices and opportunities we have out there. We want to work together so when students go through Johnston County schools and they graduate, they graduate prepared for college, a career, but most importantly, life itself so they can come back and be contributing members of our society.”
Renfrow was most recently a deputy superintendent, in charge of administrative services. He was principal of North Johnston High School for four years and Corinth Holders High School for three years.
Renfrow was an assistant principal at North Johnston High School for five years and a teacher and coach at South Johnston and Princeton high schools for five years. He received his undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees from East Carolina University.
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett