Concerns arise over newly hired Richland One superintendent

Concerns arise over newly hired Richland One superintendent

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Town Denemark, Stephen Oliver, and Jessica Lathren have a whirlwind of questions and concerns about Richland One School District's new choice for superintendent.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," Denemark said. "Texts, Facebook messages, and e-mails. People are very concerned."

Last Friday, the district's board members voted 5-2 to hire Dr. Craig Witherspoon as their new superintendent. Parents, however, feel like they were left out of the loop during most of the selection process and say they only have a few details about Dr. Witherspoon's history.

"We had been asked to take a survey for the district," Oliver said, "and then just – whammo! Hey, there's a meeting tonight. The new superintendent is going to be announced."

"I wanted to be excited, you know?" Lathren said. "You know, I want to know what made them choose the three candidates that they narrowed it to and then why they chose Dr. Witherspoon. What's so great about him?"

Commissioner Jamie Devine is defending his choice.

"We chose the best person, in my opinion, to run this district," Devine said.

According to Devine, Witherspoon reduced the dropout rate from 12 percent to 8 percent, increased the district's graduation rate from 55 percent to 79 percent, expanded Pre-K programs, and increased the district's fund balance by $20 million at his last job as superintendent in Birmingham, Alabama.

Still, some have questions about Witherspoon's track record.

Media reports say the board tried to fire him twice until the state took over the district. Witherspoon ultimately resigned last fall.

"You can do Google searches, and that's fair," Devine said, "but we had a professional company that came in and vetted him from a professional standpoint. We also vetted him from a school district standpoint, but I don't want get into what happened in Alabama."

Devine hopes all the concern will go away once Witherspoon arrives. The parents are hoping for the same.

"I would love for him to come in and be super charismatic, interested, and excited about being here," Lathren said. "I wish I could say, 'I met the guy! He's awesome!"

Board members are still working out his contract, but some parents plan to continue to push for answer and show up for future board meetings. Some even say there's been informal talk of lawsuits and sending their children to charter schools.

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