Charleston civil rights leaders renew demand to reopen search for schools chief

NAACP Charleston Branch President Dot Scott and other local civil rights leaders renewed their calls Friday for a new superintendent search.

Local civil rights leaders renewed their calls for a new superintendent search Friday, questioning the selection of a former Horry County superintendent as a finalist for Charleston’s next schools chief.

The Rev. Nelson Rivers III and Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, said picking Gerrita Postlewait as one of the three finalists for the job confirms their earlier complaint that she was intended to be the choice all along. Scott called her the “hand-picked candidate.”

The school board announced the finalists Thursday.

The furor over the validity of the search and Postlewait allegedly having the inside track has been fanned by school board member Michael Miller’s revealing that several board members met with Postlewait before the search for a superintendent formally began in March.

“It seems our suspicions were justified,” Rivers said.

The other two finalists are Lisa Herring, Charleston County deputy superintendent of Academics, and Terri Breeden, assistant superintendent of the department of instruction for Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, Va.

The NAACP and others have touted Herring, who is black, as their choice to replace former Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who resigned under fire in October over her handling of a racially charged post-game celebration by Academic Magnet High School’s football team.

“There’s no question in my mind Dr. Herring is qualified,” said the Rev. Charles Heyward. “What an awesome thing it would have been for the board to rally around her ... and say we’re going to follow the pathway of success.”

The continued concerns about whether the board members had made up their minds about who to hire even before the search began could put anyone besides Herring who gets the job in a difficult position.

“Given the nature of what has passed for a search, there’s no reason for the community to have any confidence whatsoever in Dr. Postlewait,” Scott said. “She’d then have to go to a community that has no confidence in her and try to rebuild relationships that she didn’t tear down.”

During Friday’s news conference, the civil rights activists again asked the board to reopen the search for the next superintendent using a national search firm. The S.C. School Boards Association is currently assisting with the search process.

Rivers also said that if the board doesn’t launch a new search then he wanted the board members who met with Postlewait to “recuse themselves from further involvement.” And Scott said she is consulting with legal staff from the national NAACP office to ensure the hiring of a superintendent is fair and to hold the school board “accountable.”

Last month, Nelson and other civil rights leaders demanded a new search and called for the resignation of seven board members who they claimed met with Postlewait.

“We urge the school board to do a real search in an open, systematic and transparent manner that results in community confidence in their ultimate choice,” Scott said Friday.

None of the civil rights leaders have spoken to any of the superintendent candidates about their concerns, Rivers and Scott said. Neither Postlewait nor Herring returned phone calls seeking comment.

Board members Eric Mack, Todd Garrett, Kate Darby and Tripp Wiles have acknowledged meeting with Postlewait before she was formally announced as a candidate in March, with several of them describing it as a “meet and greet.” Three others that Miller claimed met with Postlewait — Cindy Bohn Coats, Tom Ducker and Chris Staubes — have either declined to comment or did not respond to phone calls and emails asking for comment.

Darby defended the board at a May 21 meeting, saying “nobody’s done anything wrong” and insisting that “nobody’s made any decisions yet” regarding a new superintendent.

Coats, who chairs the board, did not return a phone call or email Friday seeking comment about whether the board would consider reopening the search.