11/04/08 — School board pays tribute to departing Pete Gurley

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School board pays tribute to departing Pete Gurley

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 4, 2008 1:46 PM

Pete Gurley

As today's election determines his replacement on the Board of Education, at-large member Pete Gurley was remembered Monday night as a friend and mentor whose arrival 12 years ago helped unite the group.

Gurley had announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.

Candidates vying for his seat are Ven Faulk and Eddie Radford.

At his last meeting Monday, his colleagues paid tribute to Gurley's contributions personally, professionally and to the school system.

Board Chairwoman Thelma Smith praised his efforts to help the district close the achievement gap between students, working to improve facilities and promoting a quality education for all students.

"Mr. Gurley has served with vision, courage and enthusiasm," she said. "He has generously devoted his time and talents to the board and to the district."

Board member Rick Pridgen said he had often looked to Gurley for "guidance and knowledge" when he first joined the board six years ago.

Board member John Grantham was already on the board, but was familiar with Gurley, who had worked for years in the school system.

"He gave me a lot of pointers (and) he was a big help to me," Grantham said.

It was a different atmosphere then, he added.

"We had meetings (that went to) 1:00 in the morning, 2:00 in the morning," he said, noting that arguments were not unusual. "Pete came on board, it was like a breath of fresh air to me because we started looking at things that made a difference, programs ... and things that I think made a big difference in the kids' lives. He had a lot to do with the board coming together."

Board member Shirley Sims said she and Gurley go "way back" to the time schools were first integrated. She met him in one of her first teaching assignments when the challenges were great and she was a sensitive young educator.

"He supported me in everything," she said before turning to Gurley. "If there's anybody that's going to miss you, it's me."

Searching for the right words to describe Gurley, board member George Moye came up with several -- "arrogant, aggressive, bullheaded, scrapper, best friend, a great board member, a real asset to the children of Wayne County."

Despite some heated debates at times, Moye said Gurley would be missed.

"Of all the friends that I have had on the board in these 20 years I have been on the board, I have never had a better friend," he said.

Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools, said Gurley will also be missed by those he advocated for throughout the years, especially parents and teachers.

"You have touched the lives of many people," Taylor said. "The good work that you have done will always be there...You have contributed a lot more than most people give."

Gurley said he had thoroughly enjoyed his years being affiliated with Wayne County Public Schools and on the board.

"The system means so much to me," he said. "Sixty years of my life have been in Wayne County schools -- where I have been a student, an employee or as a board member -- and I have enjoyed every minute of it."

There were many moments of pride, he said, citing efforts to close the achievement gap between black, white and Hispanic students. But there was also a big disappointment, he added, in not seeing the building program go as far as he would have liked.

"I would love to have been more of a part of improving and adding additions to our school facilities," he said. "We have had some trouble with funding -- what we have funded since I have been on board has been done by the state. ... It's been going on for a long time, and I wish that we could have seen more of it mature."

Despite that, he said it has been a pleasure to serve with his fellow board members.

"There's no question in my mind that this is the most cohesive, most congenial Board of Education in this state," he said. "There's been very few times that we haven't been unanimous in our vote. As a result of this, we have been able to get things done, many things that I have been extremely proud of. We have made things happen, and I think we have put this school system on another level, I really do."