The overhaul of the Johnston County Board of Education is underway. Recently elected members Teresa Grant and Ronald Johnson joined the school board this past week, taking the seats vacated by members Donna White and Keith Branch, who each won higher office in the November election.
Also this past week, school board chairman Larry Strickland resigned from his seat, having won a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives. The school board will use an application process to replace Strickland, with the board accepting applications until 5 p.m. Dec. 28. It will then appoint a new board member during a special meeting Jan. 3, ahead of the first regular meeting in 2017 on Tuesday Jan. 11.
Johnston Superintendent Ross Renfrow said he had already received two letters of interest in the job, even ahead of the board’s decision to solicit applications. Todd Sutton, who finished fifth out of eight candidates for the four open school board seats, confirmed his continued interest in the job and that he was one of the people who had written to Renfrow. He attended Tuesday’s meeting and said that if the school board doesn’t select him to fill Strickland’s seat, he intends to run again in 2018.
With Strickland’s departure, the school board shook up its leadership and elected two-term member Mike Wooten as the new chairman. Dorothy Johnson, who was once again named vice chair, nominated Wooten, praising his dedication to the district’s students.
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“I think Mike has shown us his belief in children and our teachers and his love of educating all children,” Johnson said.
In accepting the post, Wooten detailed his family’s relationship with education – more than a century’s worth of service in the classroom. He talked about how his family came to Johnston County in 1969 so his father could coach and serve as an administrator and how his family had been involved in the school system ever since.
“This is very humbling to be able to serve in this position, not only to be elected to serve on the school board but to be able to serve with these board members collectively,” Wooten said. “I accept this nomination in honor of all the hardworking teachers and students we have in the classroom. I’d like to especially honor my father, who’s not doing well, suffering from dementia. But he served this county since 1969. He came to Johnston County when SSS and South Johnston were built. ... It’s just an honor to be able to serve and follow my family in education and serve in this capacity.”
Wooten said that as long as Johnston County remains a popular place to raise a family, the school system will face the challenges of growth, the opportunities in diversity and will continue to search for a balance between new construction and maintenance. He expects teacher pay to remain an issue as Johnston tries to stay competitive with neighboring counties.
In electing Wooten to the top spot on the board, the board of eduction bypassed its longest-serving member in Dorothy Johnson, who joined the board in 1998 alongside Strickland. Johnson said she wanted to set the record straight.
“I never wanted to be chair,” Johnson said. “I just want to get that straight.”
It was an emotional departure for Strickland, who will take over the District 28 House seat from retiring legislator J.H. Langdon. He offered a few words of wisdom to the newcomers on the board, encouraging them to be persistent.
“It’s always very rewarding when you tackle an issue and see the fruition of it, whether you’re helping in a classroom or dealing with trying to bring in quality teachers or building a school in the county,” Strickland said.
“It’s been a great run for me, 18 years,” he added. “It’s like a basketball game; you have different quarters.”
Strickland said he’d served during the administrations of four superintendents and, with Grant and Ronald Johnson on the board, 18 school board members. He listed the building of three high schools and a dedication to community school boundaries as his proudest accomplishments.
“I feel good about what I’ve tried to do,” Strickland said. “I’ve had a lot of help.”
Wooten told Strickland the board is in good shape.
“My daddy always told me that when you borrow something, it needs to be in better shape when you take it back than when you borrowed it,” Wooten said. “That’s what you’ve done in your service here.”