The Roanoke School Board on Tuesday appointed Verletta White to be the next superintendent for the school division.
“I’m humbled, I’m grateful, I feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful community,” said White, who called into the live video stream of the school board meeting. “This is a beautifully diverse community, and it is my honor to serve.”
White comes to Roanoke from Baltimore, where she’s served in various education positions over nearly three decades, including interim superintendent for the Baltimore County school system for two years. She’s also been a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, executive director of professional development and chief academic officer. People can learn more about her at the website the school district set up : www.verlettawhite.com.
The school board approved her appointment unanimously.
White will begin her term on July 1. She succeeds Rita Bishop, who has held the role for 13 years and is retiring.
“We believe we have hit the jackpot,” board Chairman Mark Cathey said in a statement. “In her nearly 30-year career, she has continuously demonstrated excellence in curriculum, personnel, and fiscal management. And she came with glowing recommendations from a wide variety of stakeholders who all championed her work and her positive impact on children.”
The transition comes during a challenging time as school officials across the state are trying to navigate educating students from afar after school doors closed for the final two months of the academic year. It’s still unclear whether face-to-face instruction will happen in the fall. Bishop said Tuesday that the school division is still waiting on further guidance from the state. She told the school board the biggest challenges will include how to safely provide transportation to students to and from school and maintaining social distancing.
White will have to address employee and parent concerns and adhere to budget constraints related to the pandemic while adjusting to the new role. The school board has already made some tough budget decisions due to declining revenue, including removing salary increases for teachers it had hoped to provide this year.
Bishop announced in October 2019 that she planned to retire at the end of the school year after nearly six decades in education. The school board hired the search firm McPherson and Jacobson to conduct the superintendent search. The school board had a diverse candidate pool from which to choose; 34 people applied, a majority from out of state, more than half with superintendent experience and over half people of color.
Bishop will leave behind a changed district.
Most notably, Roanoke’s academic standing improved drastically during her 13 years as the district’s top official. Under her tenure, the district’s on-time graduation rate went from under 60% to 90.1%, and in 2018, the entire district was accredited for the first time.
One of Bishop’s early achievements was the creation of Forest Park Academy, for students who have struggled academically. It resulted in higher graduation rates and fewer drop outs, and students have credited the school with saving their high school career.
She also created RCPS+, a summer enrichment program designed to reduce summer slide, the learning loss that often occurs over summer breaks. A record number of students enrolled in the program last summer.
Equity was another cornerstone of Bishop’s tenure. In an urban school district with racial and socioeconomic diversity, Bishop focused on whether schools and subgroups of students were equipped with the tools needed to succeed. The district realigned attendance zones, bought new books, adjusted where faculty were assigned and updated facilities.
She wasn’t without her critics, though.
Chiefly, teachers and administrators have complained about retaliation and a negative workplace culture. A 2017 employee survey found that 6 in 10 employees surveyed believed it was “seldom” or “almost never” true that staff can disagree with leadership without fear of retaliation.
Bishop previously said that she always tried to treat others fairly, and that “every person who works here has to be kid-focused.”
Attendees at a superintendent search forum in February, though, made clear that they wanted a superintendent who was open and inviting, with one person bluntly describing current district leadership style as “command and control.”
Outsourcing transportation has also been a point of contention. The district’s current transportation company, Durham School Services, had a track record of delays and poor communication this school year. (The school division and Durham both blamed a bus driver shortage.)
Bishop wasn’t a new face to the district when she took over in 2007. She previously served 10 years as assistant superintendent before leaving in 2004 to head up a district in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She started her career as an English teacher in San Jose, California.