Friday this came across my Twitter feed.
“Huh,” I thought out loud to no one in particular. Is Bill Harrison saying what I think he’s saying? Does he want to run for statewide office after his retirement as superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington School System starts in June? Really?
So after mulling it over for, oh, about 30 seconds, I replied with a retweet. “Do it!” I wrote.
And I wasn’t the only one. The first response to Harrison came from ABSS Board of Education member Tony Rose.
And then it was an onslaught. More than 30 replies all in the affirmative, pushing Harrison to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a post now held by Mark Johnson, a Republican who was elected in 2016. Harrison announced about a year ago that his status with ABSS would be coming to an end with the school year in 2018. No more extended contracts for the superintendent who arrived in Alamance County to take on the job for a few months on an interim basis when the system was in turmoil following the departure / ouster of one-time superintendent Lily Cox who resigned with a more than $200,000 payoff.
That was in 2014. Harrison, then retired as superintendent of Cumberland County Schools, came aboard to lead the school system in the short term and was so impressive the Board of Education asked him to stay. Local business leaders chipped in financially to sweeten the salary in order to persuade him this would be a good spot to camp for a while. It was a wise move. Harrison righted the ship quickly, untangled a mess and helped county leadership focus on the ABSS long-range plan, redrawing district lines and devising a plan to renovate multiple schools and build a new high school — all part of a future $150 million bond package voters might see later this year. Most of the schools in Alamance County are more than 50 years old.
The Burlington Times-News saw Harrison’s tweet Friday and asked him about it. He was noncommittal. “I know I’ll do something after I leave ABSS. I’m not sure what,” he told reporter Jessica Williams. He admitted to being frustrated by education policies in Raleigh as are many people in state education these days. He also mentioned the “lack of responsiveness and support from the state superintendent’s office.”
When I asked him about it on Monday he said, “I’m seriously looking into it.”
Again, I encouraged him to do so. I have no idea what Harrison’s political party affiliation is, but I know he’s the kind of figure we need in public life today. He’s intelligent, knowledgeable, devoted to education, engaged in his job and life around him. Above all else, I find him to be genuine in the way he conducts business. Too often I’ve witnessed school superintendents who remain hidden in their offices, except when public meetings are scheduled. Few return phone calls to parents and they might visit a few schools a year. Harrison visits schools nearly every day if possible, is often available to the public and interacts with parents, students and citizens via Twitter regularly. He posts a lot of positive news about things going on at individual schools and answers questions. Refreshing.
He has loyal admirers here in Alamance County and in Cumberland County. People I know in the Fayetteville area love him. School superintendents have detractors, too. Harrison isn’t immune. He’s had his share of criticism but seems to handle it as well as anyone can.
And Harrison is a big baseball guy, something we have in common. We met a few months ago for coffee one afternoon to chat about stuff but mainly talk a little baseball. He’s a Phillies fan and I root for the Cardinals. He didn’t hold the pennant race of 1964 against me. We had a good conversation that day. We talked about schools and politics and friends we have in common. I left that meeting even more impressed with Harrison than I already was.
I’m interested to see what Harrison does next. Will he take the plunge into politics? These days it’s a sewer barely fit for human interaction. But if anyone can make it better, well, it’s Harrison.
Like the slogan goes, just do it.