Richmond County School Superintendent Frank Roberson will begin working four hours a day on an eight-week trial period while doctors continue to determine if he will be able to return to lead the district full time.
Roberson’s physicians noted he still has deficiencies in certain areas but has made steady progress in his recovery from a brain condition that surfaced last year, Richmond County Board of Education attorney Pete Fletcher said Thursday.
The board voted 6-3 to allow Roberson to work during a trial period, with Jimmy Atkins, Helen Minchew and Board President Alex Howard in dissent and Jack Padgett absent.
Howard said 14 months without a superintendent has prevented the school system from moving forward. While the top administrators are capable and talented, the district is lacking a permanent leader with set vision and direction.
“I think Dr. Roberson is an incredible man and he’s been through a lot, but I feel it’s time for us to move forward,” Howard said.
Roberson underwent emergency surgery for an arteriovenous malformation, or abnormal clustering of blood vessels on the brain, in February 2011. He returned to work no more than six hours per week in December, but Deputy Superintendent James Whitson has acted in Roberson’s place for more than 14 months.
Whitson is set to retire June 30, which would leave the top two positions vacant if Roberson is not able to return full time.
Roberson will now work with the executive cabinet to prepare the 2012-13 budget and address all other issues. The board will also begin the process of locating a deputy superintendent to replace Whitson.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue to move the system forward and to get back there among the students and the teachers and the principals,” Roberson said.
“That is the best medicine a sick person can receive,” he added.
Richmond County Council of PTAs President Monique Braswell said the school system should be patient in allowing Roberson’s gradual return to work.
When Roberson was hired in August 2010, he announced aggressive plans to boost student achievement, increase the graduation rate and expand magnet programs in the district.
Given the challenges with Richmond County test scores, which lags behind state averages, and a low graduation rate, she said her organization of 10,788 members believes Roberson is one of few people who can turn the district around.
“It’s going to bring him back for what we know they brought him here to do,” Braswell said. “Dr. Roberson is an honorable man, and if he knows he’s not back at full potential, he’ll do what’s best for our school system.”
The board’s vote Thursday included a clause that allows Fletcher to keep track of media advertising costs and deadlines in case the board must begin a search for a new superintendent at the end of Roberson’s trial period.
Howard said he would have rather begun a search Thursday to be able to have a consistent superintendent in place for when the 2012-13 school year begins in August.
“This is going into 15 months, and I think we’ve had enough time to make an assessment,” he said.