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Interim schools head to probe principal switch

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SMITHFIELD — Interim Superintendent Jim Causby says he plans to swiftly resolve the controversy over his predecessor’s decision to transfer a popular Clayton High School principal to a central office job he didn’t want.

Johnston County Public Schools released a statement from Causby, who began work Sept. 3 following Superintendent Ross Renfrow’s abrupt retirement. A Clayton High parent and one of the leaders in the campaign to reinstate former principal Bennett Jones was scheduled to address the matter during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Kim Winslow says Jones’ transfer underscores distrust between school stakeholders and the district’s top administrators. She planned to speak during time reserved for public comment and her prepared remarks were included in the school board’s agenda packet. Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled to take place after the Johnstonian News went to press.

“We feel that one step in restoring that trust is to conduct a postmortem on how this situation was allowed to evolve into where we are today,” Winslow wrote. “When the transfer announcement for Dr. Jones came out, we were shocked. On many occasions over the last several weeks, the Clayton High School community has reached out to the board out of concern for how the school system was handling the investigation into our principal and into the high school. We thank each of you that took the time to respond to our concerns.”

In a message the school system released last week, Causby said his primary responsibility will be to restore the public’s trust in the school system as well as to identify priority areas that need attention and some adjustment.

“My primary goal will be to restore staff and public confidence in Johnston County Public Schools. A return to normalcy is badly needed, and the people and resources needed to achieve that are available,” said Causby. “There is a strong need to quickly make some final decisions on the Clayton High School principal situation, and I will give the investigation an in-depth look and make a decision on the appropriate path forward as quickly as possible.”

“Of course, there is also a need for improved staff morale, and I will work hard to see improvement there,” Causby continued. “Johnston County Public Schools staff is made up of exceptionally qualified and loyal employees, and I will support them fully. We will focus every decision we make with consideration of what is best for students.”

Causby, who previously served as superintendent for the district from 1994-2004, said he is excited to be back in Johnston County.

“It feels great. It is unusual for a former superintendent to be asked to return to a school system, and I deeply appreciate the confidence in me expressed by the Board of Education,” said Causby. “This is truly almost like going home. I served 10 wonderful years in Johnston County as superintendent and still have many very dear friends here and have many staff members that I hired when I was superintendent. Johnston County is truly a unique place that has placed the education and welfare of its youth as a number one priority. “

Causby, a native of McDowell County, has an extensive career in North Carolina’s public education system, including 30 years as superintendent in six districts. He is currently semi-retired and works as an education and marketing consultant. He has a wide range of experience from the classroom to the central office, starting out as a teacher and coach before moving up to principal and ultimately superintendent positions.

Causby said he looks forward to the opportunity to lead Johnston County Public Schools and he understands what it means to serve as the interim superintendent.

“Usually the basic role of an interim superintendent is to maintain a school system while the Board of Education hires a new permanent superintendent. There is no need to establish new programs or efforts since a new superintendent will want to do that as part of their work once they are on board,” said Causby. “The situation in Johnston County is different from a normal system situation, so I will need to adapt my efforts to deal with that and the ramifications that result because of it.”

In addition to the 10 years he spent with Johnston County Public Schools, Causby also led Swain County Schools for 11 years and Polk County Schools for five years. He served as interim superintendent of Hickory City Schools in 2011.

From 2004-13, Causby led two statewide organizations, serving as executive director of the North Carolina Association of School Administrators and the North Carolina School Superintendents Association.

He was named North Carolina Superintendent of the Year three times and was named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine — North Carolina’s highest civilian award.

Causby completed his undergraduate degree and a master’s in elementary education at Western Carolina University. He obtained his education specialist degree from Appalachian State University in 1975 and his doctorate in education administration from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1988.

“The Johnston County Board of Education feels that Causby’s experience and commitment to education will allow for a smooth transition in leadership,” said Johnston County Board of Education Chairman Mike Wooten.