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Superintendent accused of ‘marginalizing’ black leaders

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SMITHFIELD — A community leader told the Johnston County Board of Education on May 14 that African Americans at the school district’s central office have been “marginalized under the administration of School Superintendent Ross Renfrow.”

Johnston County Education Summit member Reggie Holley prepared to read a written statement to the school board when Chairman Mike Wooten stopped him.

“Mr. Holley, there are personnel issues in this letter,” said Wooten. “ I’ll let you address the board, but you can’t address the names of the personnel in open session.”

The Johnston County Board of Education requires speakers to register 48 hours before board meetings and submit remarks in advance. It also prohibits discussion of personnel issues, a policy media law attorneys have questioned. The school board in neighboring Wilson County rescinded an identical rule last year due to First Amendment concerns.

After a five-minute break during which his statement was revised to omit school officials’ names, Holley was permitted to speak.

“Thank you for the allocation of time for a statement of concern regarding the marginalization of African American professionals in the Johnston County school administration.,” said Holley. “The summit is an informal think tank, focused on student development and education in Johnston County, and whose members include clergy, business and civic leaders, along with two former members of the Johnston County Board of Education.”

Holley said summit members have met with Wooten and Renfrow to convey their concerns about “the ongoing, emphasis on ongoing, marginalization of African American leaders in Superintendent Ross Renfrow’s administration.”

Holley planned to cite two examples of African American principals who were reassigned to central office positions. His revised remarks did not reference those transfers. The Johnstonian News is publishing the full contents of Holley’s original statement as a letter to the editor in this week’s edition.

“Given the mission and the values to which the district has made a commitment, and with many of which we resonate, we are sure you as transformative leaders of this board, are not satisfied with the current state of affairs,” said Holley. “We believe, as members of this summit, that your compass is set on fairness and respect for all.”

Holley asked school board Vice Chairwoman Peggy Smith and the other school board members “to align this administration’s course with yours, and with urgent speed.”

Wooten thanked Holley for coming and Renfrow offered a brief response.

“Mr. Holley, appreciate you and all summit members for being here today. We appreciate your advocacy — it’s a message we need to hear,” said Renfrow. “I look forward to reaching out to you so that we can get together in June and have a more in-depth conversation, sir.

“We appreciate your offer of help, and looking forward to embracing it and taking you up on it,” said Renfrow.

Holley is principal and founder of The Longmire Group. He served as state deputy director for former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole He is also former director of the State Youth Council for the N.C. Department of Administration.