PUBPEN051816Cumberland County Schools have been in the headlines quite a bit over the past two weeks. Some of it was good, some of it was not so good. In the interest of fair play, let’s start with the good news. The really bad news story will follow. 

Late last week, Melody Chalmers, the principal at E.E. Smith High School was named the North Carolina Principal of the Year. Wow! Now that’s a pretty big deal and says great things not only about Chalmers, but also about her school and Cumberland County education as a whole. Chalmers is a hands-on principal. She spends as much time on administrative duties as she does working with teachers and her students, all of whom turned out to surprise her last week at a pep rally to congratulate her on the award, which was presented on Thursday in Cary by State School Superintendent June Atkinson. 

Chalmers works hard to inspire success in her teachers, but even more importantly, in her students. She has created a culture of high expectations and high performance at her school. Her goal is to not only see her students graduate, but also seek higher education and gain success.

She knows the struggles they will face. She knows the long road that many of her students have already traveled, and she keeps pushing them to succeed. Chalmers, and the passion, care and dedication she brings to her job and to her students, are what is good about Cumberland County Schools. 

She is not alone in caring for her students and in seeking their success. Those same traits exist in educators throughout Cumberland County. As a mother of a teenager in the system, I see this every day. I have seen teachers go the extra mile to ensure my child’s success not only academically, but socially as well. Teachers and coaches, too many to mention by ame, have poured themselves into him. They have taught him, encouraged him, disciplined him when it was necessary and worked with me every step of the way. They are, also, part of what is good about Cumberland County Schools.

My son attends Gray’s Creek High School. It is a big school. But even at that, kids are not numbers, they are individuals. The teachers, coaches and administrators see them that way. They treat them that way. Among those administrators is Vernon Aldridge, the principal at Gray’s Creek High School.

Mr. Aldridge has been in the headlines recently — not necessarily in the way he would have wanted to be. Aldridge is a consummate professional. He, like Chalmers, takes care of his teachers and students. He encourages them and sets a good example for them. He expects them to do their very best. He knows his students by name. And, there’s a lot of them. I walked up one day to speak with him and began to introduce myself. He stopped me. He knew who I was. He knew my son and he knew that he played baseball and football. But he knows that about all of them. Aldridge doesn’t stay in his office. He is in the halls. He talks to his students. You could say, he mentors them — all of them. Not just the high performers. Not just the girls or boys or the white ones or African-American ones — all of them.

That’s why the recent news concerning his appointment to Activities Director for Cumberland County Schools was so upsetting to many people — myself included. This is where I get to the bad news.

It is a shame and a disgrace that in 2016, a good man, a great educator, a caring man like Vernon Aldridge was judged and found lacking not because of his talent or character, but because of the color of his skin. Cumberland County School Board members Carrie Sutton and Judy Musgrave should be ashamed. Yes, I know he got the job, but the fact that an educator who has poured himself into the lives of thousands of children in our school system was subjected to the kind of misguided racist treatment by our elected school board officials is a crying shame. 

In the week that has passed, we have heard many lame excuses from people at all levels trying to justify those inappropriate statements and walk them back. No need. It doesn’t matter now. The two board members that voted against Aldridge and the one that abstained because it was politically correct should all be censored. That is not the attitude or style of leadership that motivates, educates, encourages or develops our young people. Their character is surely being judged now. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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