By MIKE WILLIAMS
Pulaski County School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers has resigned to take the job of superintendent in Franklin County.
The announcement was made last Friday in Pulaski County, at the same time Siers’ hiring in Franklin County was being announced during a special called meeting there late Friday afternoon.
In Franklin County, Siers replaces Bernice Cobbs, who announced last year she would not seek a new contract after her current one ends, according to The Franklin News Post.
Cobbs’ contract ends June 30. She has served as Franklin County’s Superintendent since 2020.
In making the move, Siers goes to a much larger school division. Franklin County has 14 schools and 6,533 students.
Siers first became superintendent in Pulaski County in August of 2016. He received a new four-year deal in early 2019 that was to run through June 30, 2022.
Then, in January of 2022, the board and Siers agreed to a third contract that would be in force from July 1, 2022 until June 30, 2026.
Rumors that a change at the top of the Pulaski County school system was coming began surfacing weeks ago, prior to last Thursday’s special called meeting of the school board.
Siers will begin his new position in Rocky Mount on July 1, 2023.
“The Pulaski County School Board has been informed of the resignation of Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers following his acceptance of an offer in another school division,” Mrs. Beckie Cox, Chairwoman of the Pulaski County School Board said in a press release from the school board.
“The average tenure of a school superintendent is 3.5 years. The leadership of Dr. Siers for nearly seven years was during one of the most transformational and chaotic times in public education, allowing numerous improvements to Pulaski County Public Schools,” Cox said.
“With his guidance, we have a new middle school, improved special education programs, overhauled CTE programs for alignment with the needs of businesses and the labor market, and opened lines of communication with students, staff, and the community,” she continued. “Pulaski County Public Schools will see the improvements made by Dr. Siers for years to come.”
The release continued that during his tenure, he oversaw the bond referendum campaign and construction of Pulaski County Middle School, navigated the school division through the COVID pandemic in a way that allowed Pulaski County students to return to five days a week of in person instruction before any other school division in Southwest Virginia, and oversaw the development and implementation of a division-wide model for effective instruction which created higher standards and increased expectations about instructional delivery in all PCPS classrooms.
According to the release, Siers stated in his resignation letter to the Pulaski County School Board, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the children and families of Pulaski County for the past seven years. I think that everyone would agree that it has been a transformational period for our schools and there is no doubt that the work that we have done will make public education a positive experience for generations of Pulaski County’s children. You have been the gold standard for School Boards in Virginia. Every school division should have a fierce advocate for its programs like Mr. (Tim) Hurst, a visionary problem solver like Ms. Cox, the support for teachers like that brought by Mr. (Bill) Benson, a promoter of positive solutions like Mrs. (Penny) Golden, and the desire to create a love for learning like Dr. (Paige) Cash.”
About his new position, Dr. Siers stated in the release, “I’m very happy that the Franklin County School Board has selected me to lead their school division for the foreseeable future. They have a great tradition of high academic achievement and strong community support for their schools. The Board has given me a few objectives to begin working on and I look forward to engaging with the Franklin County students, parents, community members, faculty and staff in order to meet these objectives”.
“Anyone who got to know Dr. Siers knew his love for children and education,” Mrs. Cox said. “Additionally, he knew the history of the area better than most lifelong citizens, having dedicated seven years to volunteering at the Wilderness Road Regional Museum. He was a constant presence in all schools and at school functions. The life of a great school superintendent such as Dr. Siers is engrossed in the life of the students, educators, and schools. We can only hope as a school board to find such dedication to fill the void. As we begin the superintendent search immediately, we know that another school division will prosper immensely with the enthusiasm and excellent direction of Dr. Kevin Siers.”
The Pulaski County School Board, according to the release, will immediately begin the process of finding a new Superintendent with the goal of having that person selected as quickly as possible.
Some, however, have a different idea on how to move forward in the search for a new school superintendent.
Sabrina Cox, a candidate for the school board from the Robinson District, said she was “surprised” to hear of Siers’ resignation as he had two more years left on his contract.
“I wish him and his family well as they embark on their next chapter,” Cox said.
She added, however, his resignation “allows the opportunity to find the right person to move forward with Pulaski County teachers, parents and students.”
“It is my strong belief that this is a decision that should reside with the voters of this county considering every seat on this board is being contested. Appoint an interim and allow the voters to elect the board of their choosing to hire the next superintendent. The Virginia Code Section 22.1-60 allows for extensions well beyond November 2023. It states that ‘upon request, a school board SHALL be granted up to an ADDITIONAL 180 days within which to appoint a division superintendent,’” Cox said.
“Dr. Siers advocated at the school board meeting on May 9 that the board had 180 days and could apply for an additional 180 days. That statement can be heard on the recording of the meeting located on YouTube for the May 9, 2023 meeting at 2:41:45,” she added.
“This is a critical position in our county that affects virtually everyone in our county and this decision should reside with the voters of this county. I encourage the voters to contact the board members and express their desire for them to employ the above referenced code and apply for said extension,” Cox advised.
“It is also my view that we should allow more time for applications to be received so as to promote healthy competition and give the county its greatest chance at hiring the best. I do believe we all want a school system where teachers are supported, children are learning and parents are informed as well as a healthy and thriving community for all so I ask you to join me in this effort today. Let us look forward, let us put in work and let us do it with kindness and respect,” Cox urged.
Another school board candidate, Gina Paine from Ingles District, reminded of some of the more tumultuous days of Siers’ seven years in Pulaski County.
“For reasons unknown to the community, Superintendent Kevin Siers announced his resignation as of June 30, 2023. Although his relocation search began months ago, it is widely known that Siers’ tenure suffered a self-inflicted wound in 2021,” Paine said.
“This resulted from the exposure of emails written by Siers to individuals at the Virginia Department of Education wherein he referred to comments made by community members at school board meetings as akin to Klan rally comments; implied that the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office was intentionally creating a dangerous and hostile environment at school board meetings; denigrated members of the Board of Supervisors; dismissed our Faith community as irrelevant and a nuisance; and equated it all to being in a ‘war’ much like his tenure in Iraq,” Paine said.
“The PCPS Board and Siers claimed that these emails were “taken out of context” and were willingly released in response to a FOIA request, even though they were somehow legally confidential communication (despite being written during the course of business, on the taxpayer dime, and not relative to any legal matter). None of Siers’ statements were out of context: I know, I submitted the FOIA that obtained these documents. I have the documents,” Paine added.
“Let’s not lose sight of this, however: throughout all of these revelations, the PCPS School Board backed their superintendent 100 percent. They never once disavowed his statements or sentiments about our community and citizens. They never distanced themselves from them. Following the revelation of these emails, this Board wrote and released a 5-page statement praising Siers and again, rationalizing and justifying the email release. Absent from that statement? An apology.
“Furthermore, they doubled down in their protection of Kevin Siers by prematurely extending his contract in January 2022. At that time, Siers was under a contract that ran from July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2023. So, 18 months ahead of time, this Board renewed his contract to run from July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2026. Why do that? My guess is to intimidate any individuals thinking of running for school board. Any majority new board would be faced with buying out Siers’ contract at the tune of about $400,000. Interesting that Siers resigned when he feasibly could have forced his firing by a new board and collected $400,000 to leave. Despite that reality, he left willingly,” Paine said.
“Based on this board’s behavior the last two years, one has to ask themselves: Is the reason they never disavowed Siers’ statements or distanced themselves from them because the sentiment expressed by Kevin Siers in those infamous emails are echoed by these school board members,” Paine asked.
“Kevin Siers was a big fan of their behavior and performance, calling them the ‘gold standard of Virginia School Boards’ in his resignation statement.
“Kevin Siers is leaving. One down. Five to go,” Paine stated.