JEFFERSON-School board officials won’t be in any particular hurry to find a permanent replacement for Ashe County’s outgoing superintendent of schools.
That news comes from the Chairman of the Ashe County Board of Education Charlie King. He said the recent appointment of Phyllis Yates to the district’s top job means his board won’t have to compromise or rush its search for her replacement.
The board announced Yates as its new interim superintendent of schools on May 2. She was the board’s unanimous choice to take over after the district’s current superintendent, Todd Holden, departs by the end of June.
Holden, who has served as Ashe County’s superintendent of schools since 2013, announced in April he’d be leaving the district for the same position in Madison County.
In Yates’ case, however, King said the ‘interim,’ title is largely symbolic.
“She’ll be our superintendent,” King said. “We had to use the interim title because we didn’t post the job and we knew we were going with her. So when Todd leaves she’ll be our superintendent until she wants to retire.”
King said her more than four decades with the system make her more than qualified to call the shots, and said the board’s hope is that Yates will be able to give them at least a year to conduct a thorough search for her full-time replacement.
Relying on a proven leader from within the district is a tactic the board has fallen back on before. The board turned to Donnie Johnson, who served as the district’s superintendent from 1999-2009, to fill in for some six months in 2013 after former Superintendent Travis Reeves left and the board ultimately hired Holden.
“Hiring a superintendent is such an important call and it’s not a decision you want to make if you’re having to worry about the clock,” King said. “You want to make the decision because it’s the right call, not because you’re feeling to pressure to get somebody in there. This way Phyllis can give us maybe a school year’s worth of time and we can go about the search the right way. She’s well qualified and we’ve cleared it with (the North Carolina Department of Instruction).”
King also shared his thoughts on the district’s lightly attended May 2, public hearing concerning a new Ashe County Middle School.
The ideas was to offer parents and the community a platform to express their views for the potential project, but just one parent offered her thoughts to the board.
Anna Thomas, a Creston resident, asked the board to remember families in outlying communities when the location for the new school is selected.
“I can’t say I was all that surprised that more people didn’t show up,” King said. “I do think you’ll see that change once we find a site to put the school. I think it’s hard to ask people their opinion on something when it’s all up in the air.”
The current Ashe County Middle School – it started life as Northwest Ashe High School more than five decades ago – is showing its age and much of the property is out of step with current building codes.
County leaders have said a new school might cost some $24-$26 million, and the county will soon be in prime shape to tackle the project as the slate is about to be cleared on several long-standing debt obligations.
Ashe County High School and Westwood Elementary will be paid off by the end of next year, the Ashe County Library will be paid off by 2019, and a .25 percent sales tax allotment approved two years ago by county taxpayers will also be freed up soon. That’ll mean some $2 million per year will be available to finance the new school.
“So there are going to be a lot of things to work out and consider,” King said. “I think once we’ve announced a potential site, we’ll get fussed at quite a bit at a hearing. That’s when it’ll be real for people.”
King also responded to the idea that the district could make the most of a property with a smaller footprint by building vertically, an idea Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark said he approved of.
“Either which way you go, you’re going to run into issues,” King said. “If you build everything on one story, you have to spread the school out. But if you go two-story you’ve got to worry about things like handicap accessibility and elevators which add extra considerations. It becomes an architectural question and we’ll get into all that.”
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.