07/07/10 — Duplin gets first look at new schools chief

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Duplin gets first look at new schools chief

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on July 7, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- The family of Dr. Austin Obasohan looked on Tuesday as the man already known to many as "Dr. O" was sworn in to the office of superintendent of Duplin County Schools.

The new schools chief resigned his position as superintendent of Selma City Schools in Alabama to move to Duplin County. Obasohan said he wants to make his time as Duplin superintendent "a season of love, peace and high expectations for everyone." He promised transparency, and asked those present to hold him accountable.

"I will serve you with everything I can," he said, adding that he is honored to begin working with the system's employees. Obasohan started meeting with school staff and administrators after taking the position July 1.

Although the administrative officials may not always agree, the public will know where they stand, he said.

"We're all in this together, there are no boundaries," Obasohan said.

The new superintendent received a warm welcome from locals, including members of grassroots organization Citizens for the Children and the Checkbook, although previous community surveys indicated a strong preference among Duplin residents and teachers for a locally born and bred superintendent.

Organizer Karen Scalf said that the group is committed to supporting Obasohan as part of its mission to improve education and encourage a united effort toward preparing students for careers or higher education.

"The doors of communication are wide open," she said, challenging the new superintendent to win the trust of the school community.

Member Alice Scott encouraged Obasohan to seek the input of the school system employees, while parent David Jones spoke before the board about a few of the accomplishments Duplin students have achieved.

But even given the hopeful words, the concerns that have dogged the board for the last several years, including a lawsuit against the county commissioners, did not go unrecognized by public speakers.

"You expect transparency from Dr. O. We expect transparency from you," Gary Scalf said to the board members, before quoting the state statute regarding closed session meetings and expressing concerns about the board's meeting minutes-keeping system.

North Duplin resident Brent Davis also welcomed Obasohan warmly, but with a nod to the years-long court battle between the commissioners and school board and the board's decision not to accept a funding proposal offered by the county commissioners earlier this year.

"It is my deepest desire that you bring leadership to this board, and I think you will," Davis said.

After public comments, the board members voted to approve the brief agenda.

Obasohan asked the board to consider changing the schedule of meetings to give the board members more time to consider issues before voting. Under the new schedule, the board would meet in a workshop-style meeting as the first meeting of the month and conduct business at the second meeting.

The board heard reports on the school nursing program and preliminary results of proficiency testing, the latter requested by Obasohan.

According to early numbers, reading and math scores of third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and eighth-graders have improved, while high school students in algebra, geometry, biology and other math and science subjects also improved their test scores last year, Assistant Superintendent Cary Powers said.

The scores were not related to AYP or ABC, but were an encouraging measure of student proficiency, Powers said.

"This doesn't happen by any one person," he said, praising the teachers, administrators and parents for helping students achieve the results.

Even as the schools' new chief administrator was ushered into office, Chief Finance Officer Joann Hartley departed from the position she held for over a year. Ms. Hartley resigned in late June. No interim has been named to take over the position.