Superintendent Brady Johnson speaks during an event earlier this year. 

Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Brady Johnson announced the end of his career within the system at the Oct. 14 school board meeting.

Johnson’s contract with the school district was to end in May and discussion of his contract was on the agenda. The board of education opened its meeting by going into closed session to discuss personnel issues and was in closed session for more than an hour.

During the superintendent’s comments at the end of the meeting, Johnson announced Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Melanie Taylor’s retirement.

The meeting minutes read, “Mr. Johnson announced that Dr. Melanie Taylor, Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, will be retiring as of March 1. Dr. Taylor has been a champion of this school system.”

Johnson then told the board he would no longer be superintendent of I-SS by the end of the year.

The meeting minutes read, “Mr. Johnson stated that he will not be superintendent of Iredell-Statesville Schools come July 1. He stated that he will always be involved in public education in some fashion.”

What happens when the 10-year leader of the school system prepares to leave at the end of the school year?

A search beginsAt the I-SS school board’s Oct. 24 meeting, the board members approved an in-house search with a 5-1 vote.

“The majority of the board felt we would have more control over the process by handling the process in-house,” Chairman Martin Page said via email. “Cost was also an issue.”

The board approved $20,000 for the search. Page said the money will be used to cover advertising, travel and legal costs as well as background checks. However, he said he doesn’t expect the whole budget to be used.

The least expensive search service was $21,500 plus expenses. Page said with a service, the search could be up to $30,000.

At a called meeting Nov. 12, the board unanimously approved a timeline to have a new superintendent in place by July 1. The board will start advertising the position by Dec. 10, with the new superintendent being announced by late May.

Board member Sam Kennington is organizing the search, though the full board is responsible for choosing a new superintendent.

Kennington said the board created a list of qualifications for the position and is releasing a survey for I-SS parents to provide input as well.

“Who knows Iredell County and the school system better than the present Board of Education?” Kennington asked.

Board member Bill Howell voted against the in-house search. He said the responsibility to search for superintendent candidates is tremendous, and the N.C. School Board Association’s experience would have been useful. The board would have still picked the superintendent even if a search service had gathered possible candidates.

Allison Schafer, the legal counsel and director of police for the N.C. School Board Association, said there was no legal requirement for the board to hold a search.

“If boards don’t do a search at all or do a minimal search, it is often because there is someone internal or otherwise known to the board who has been identified as the board’s likely choice,” Schafer said via email. “Assistant superintendents are often trained to be able to take over.”

Dominoes fallState statute reads that the contracts of deputy or associate superintendents cannot exceed the expiration date of the superintendent’s contract. Johnson’s contract expires in May, when he is due to retire.

While the board may decide to renew some contracts of associate superintendents, the members have not announced their plan of action.

On Oct. 14, Melanie Taylor, the deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction, submitted her retirement letter. She has worked in education for 30 years, 28 of which were in I-SS.

Taylor said because her contract was tied to Johnson’s, she felt now was the time to retire. She will be leaving in February.

Taylor began working for I-SS when Statesville and Iredell schools merged into one district. She’s watched the district evolve from one recognized as average to nationally applauded as innovative.

She said while the district should continue to focus on improving student achievement, I-SS has offered an above average return on investment for taxpayers and choices for students.

“Since the shift to the partisan board, I have found it increasingly difficult to maintain focus on the things that matter and make a positive difference for students,” Taylor wrote in her retirement letter. “It is at this time that I feel it is best for the district and board to find new leadership that better aligns to their direction for the district.”

The I-SS school board elections became partisan after a 2015 bill created those in five counties. The Mooresville Graded School District was not included in the bill.

Taylor said in local, state and federal government, political agendas are driving decisions in education that aren’t in students’ best interest.

The biggest challenge she has faced in her 30 years in education is the current climate surrounding education. Taylor said that climate has resulted in the decline of teacher benefits, which has made it harder to recruit and retain quality teachers.

People reflectJohnson has worked for I-SS for 40 years. He worked his way up from the classroom to leading the district. He’s been the superintendent for 10 years.

Two weeks after announcing that he would be leaving by June, Johnson was named the 2019 North Carolina Healthy Schools Superintendent of the Year.

“Mr. Johnson is one of the nicest persons I have ever met,” Page said. “He truly loves children and has given most of his adult life making I-SS one of the best school systems in North Carolina. He will be greatly missed by I-SS. It will not be easy replacing him.”

Board members Kennington and Howell also praised Johnson, wishing him the best in whatever endeavors he pursues after May.

Howell said he thought Johnson’s work often went unnoticed.

“Mr. Johnson has led us into the 21st century,” Howell said.

Iredell County Commissioner Gene Houpe, who serves on the Education Task Force, said it was an honor to serve with Johnson.

“I don’t think they’ll ever replace him with someone who loves the kids or his job more,” Houpe said.

Houpe said Johnson cooperated with the Board of Commissioners during several projects, many of which are still ongoing.

Those projects are the possible 2020 bond, the construction of two middle schools, bringing an International Baccalaureate program to Statesville High School, supporting programs used to improve low-performing schools, and many other plans and goals for the system.

“Personally, I would like to see him stay awhile to see him work on the important projects going on, but it wasn’t my call,” Houpe said.

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