Patsy Simpson, the longest running member of the Alamance Burlington School System Board of Education, rescinded her resignation after announcing she will step down at the end of the school year. Having served since 2009, Simpson said she will remain on the board until the school system reveals to her the criteria in the selection of her replacement.
The decision to rescind came after an ABSS board meeting in early April after learning that the board would not reveal to her any information regarding how her replacement will be selected. She initially planned to retire because she wanted to put her own life ahead of her duties on the board. However, she feels she cannot do that if the board’s selected replacement cannot support the community as she has.
“Right now people are saying, ‘Oh, she’s trying to select her replacement when she’s gone.’ I’m not trying to establish the criteria. I just want to know what the criteria will be,” Simpson said.
Simpson said she believes that the Alamance-Burlington school district deserves to know what the board is looking for. Simpson’s announcement to step down was March 14, but since then, she’s been advocating for the school board to acknowledge whether or not there would even be a process.
“At the last meeting… the remaining board refused to even acknowledge that they would establish a criteria,” Simpson said.
As the only person of color on the school board, Simpson said her replacement should be able to represent people of color as they are the highest population in the school system, with 60.9% of all students being students of color. Simpson said it’s important to her that her replacement is able to bring awareness to issues students of color face. She also said she would like her replacement to be a person of high integrity and have run for the position before.
Board of education chair Sandy Ellington-Graves said the board would not share information regarding the criteria of Simpson’s replacement.
Simpson’s major accomplishments on the board include supporting the bond referendum and outlining the needs of the school system to ensure the money was equitably spent and help the school system grow.
She also changed the way the board handled business to be more transparent to the public and restored McCray schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse that taught African American children in Alamance County until it was shut down in 1951. McCray School is one of the few remaining one-room schoolhouses in the state and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
Simpson comes from a family of educators — her sister and daughter are both teachers and she has school principals in her family. However, she said her inspiration to run for the county-wide position was opening her home to foster children for 20 years. Simpson realized that the children in her care had mental health struggles that required special care but had no representation on the school board. Simpson said she ran for board of education to have an impact on the entire county as well the children she housed.
“There’s so much to do. … There’s one issue after another that has surfaced that continued to give me that push to continue to push on and try to make things better in the school system,” Simpson said.
Simpson said being a member of the board of education has had its fair share of challenges. ABSS’ most recent rezoning plan involves assigning students to the new Southeast Alamance High School from surrounding high schools. It is meant to relieve the other schools in Alamance County of overcrowding, and Simpson is the only board member who is in opposition of it. This is important as she wants to learn the criteria for the selection of her replacement so that they can support the community during what she believes will be a difficult time after she steps down.
An aspect of rezoning Simpson feels should not be ignored is that more than half of the high schools in the Alamance-Burlington school district have high minority enrollments, like Graham High School with 80.8%, Williams High School with 65.9% and Cummings High School with 93.3%. Simpson said assigning students — especially students of color — to a new school where they might look different than everyone else will make it hard for them to build connections all over again.
Simpson said this plan will force students to establish new relationships and adapt to an environment that they did not agree to be brought to. According to Simpson, students would have to go through a culture change where either the incoming students have to conform to the norms of their new school, or the current residents of the school conform to the culture of arriving students.
“Are they going to adapt to what we do, or are we going to have to conform? If you’re going to try and conform you’re going to have some issues,” Simpson said.
She acknowledges that Southeast Alamance High School will have more clubs, sports and courses that other schools may not have, but Simpson believes that students will have a more difficult time adapting to their new environment in a place where they may not feel comfortable.
“You can’t just take children from one school zone and put them in another without preparing the students as well as that school to accept them,” Simpson said.
Ellington-Graves said the board is taking into account all aspects of the rezoning plan. The board considered transportation and demographics, and said the majority of students who are being transferred to Southeast Alamance High School are being selected from the Eastern Alamance High School with 53.9% minority enrollment, Southern Alamance High School with 30.7% minority enrollment and Graham High School with 80.8% minority enrollment and they are working hard to balance demographics across the district.
“We want to make sure that all of our students feel comfortable and feel welcomed and safe in their environments,” Ellington-Graves said.
Ellington-Graves said it may be hard for students to adapt to a new environment, but the board is making sure that students have the resources and support to make the transition comfortable and welcoming.
“I’m hoping that those that are moving into the southeast district will look back and realize it's a good thing,” Ellington-Graves said.
However, Simpson believes that the school system will face issues with the rezoning plan.
Simpson said she prefers to retire with her husband, but she feels she can’t until the board selects a replacement that will support the community in her absence.
“That’s going to be very traumatic for a lot of our families,” Simpson said. “For that reason I want to stay, and for that reason I want to go.”