Commentary: Currituck school board wrong on graduation, high school principal decisions

Currituck County High School. [file photo]

I am taking my journalist hat off this evening, and putting on that of a columnist. This is a commentary. A column. An opinion piece by me, and me alone. I hope that is clear enough for those who may be confused about the difference between a news story and a commentary.

This is not something we have done since OBX Today launched in March 2019.

And, I’m pretty sure I’ve only written a few columns in nearly nine years of being an online journalist, and over 30 years as a broadcaster. Those were not on serious matters.

This one is.

As many of you know, I am a native of Currituck County and a 1991 graduate of Currituck County High School. My daughter graduated from Currituck in 2019. My sons attended Currituck County Schools before transferring to Fork Union Military Academy to complete their high school education.

I have also been the public address announcer for multiple sports in Currituck dating back to the 1980s. I’ve even worked as a substitute teacher in recent years.

My mother, Frances, was the first woman elected as a Currituck county commissioner in 1988. My father, Sam Jr., served two terms as a Currituck school board member in the 1990s.

I’d say I’m uniquely qualified to say that decisions made recently by the current elected leaders of this county have made me truly rethink of saying I am a “proud native” any longer.

I’m saving my criticism of the Currituck County Board of Commissioners for another time. This commentary is directed at the Currituck Board of Education:

You are wrong.

Two decisions, one that has already been made and one that is expected as early as Wednesday morning, could have long term impacts on the future of this county.

The Currituck Board of Education will become the first in the state of North Carolina to openly violate the executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper on mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a traditional graduation at Currituck High School takes place on Thursday evening.

Board members have incorrectly cited the governor’s order in trying to justify their decision to hold this ceremony, ignoring the exact words that graduations are not allowed under that order.

Does it absolutely suck how things have gone down for the Class of 2020? Yes, wholeheartedly.

But to jeopardize the health of the students, faculty, staff, family members and our entire community just to have hundreds of people sitting in Knights Stadium for two hours and walk across a stage en masse right now, so you can thumb your nose at the rule of law, is unacceptable.

Especially with case and hospitalization counts increasing again, both statewide and in the region.

Every other school system in northeastern North Carolina, which includes counties that have some of the highest and lowest numbers of cases in rural North Carolina, is following the rules.

Hyde County has two cases. The fewest in the state. Mattamuskeet has a class of roughly 40 students.

They did not hold a traditional graduation ceremony last week, but rather one on a limited scale. Just like what was already being planned for by the administrators and staff at Currituck High School.

And just like what took place for the graduates from J.P. Knapp Early College last month.

But Currituck’s school board essentially said “NO!” They want to do it the traditional way at the county’s larger high school, right now.

What makes them feel they are so special?

Hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully no one that attends the ceremony contracts the coronavirus from someone else, and I’ll be glad to be called out for being wrong.

But if you have to sign a waiver to be a part of an event, there may be a reason the event should not take place in the first place.

The second matter that I feel the Currituck school board is wrong about is a move towards not extending the contract of Currituck County High School principal, Dr. Brian Matney, at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning.

I’ll share the letter that my wife, Dr. Emily Walker, PharmD., and I submitted to the Currituck Board of Education on May 11 regarding reports that Dr. Matney was being ousted.

Our experience with Dr. Matney has been that he is an outstanding principal, who 100 percent cares about the students, the staff and the community as a whole.

He has always made an extra effort to interact with students, which has garnered a level of respect that can be extremely rare in principal/student relationships.

When it comes to interactions with parents, Dr. Matney was among a small group of administrators in our experience the last 15 years who wasted no time in getting back with us no matter the question, and resolved any issues just as quickly.

Holding teachers accountable, especially when a school is not reaching its goals, is the job of any solid administrator. If there is dissension in the ranks about being told they are not doing their job, the problem is usually with those who aren’t doing their job. That’s where the changes needs to occur.

A great example of Dr. Matney’s ability to manage difficult situations is how he handled the “fake outrage” that arose out of the establishment of a LGBTQ+ Club. Dr. Matney rose above the fray to make those students feel safe and accepted, unlike others in the school system and the community.

Change just for change sake at this time is not in the best interest of our students.

Only one member of the board, Janet Rose, responded to thank us for our submission.

In closing, I want to say that the actions of the Currituck County Board of Education has led me to reconsider how I spend my free time away from the radio, this website and my family for the past 20 years.

One of my passions in life is interscholastic athletics. That includes being a high school lacrosse official in Virginia and North Carolina, and as a public address announcer and in-game entertainment coordinator for multiple sports.

But these decisions have led me to determine that I can no longer be associated with leadership that doesn’t follow the rules, and doesn’t use common sense when it comes to an important personnel decision.

That being said, I will be stepping away from the microphone at Currituck, permanently.

The current Currituck County Board of Education has set a poor example for the students they are constitutionally charged to provide the education they deserve.

We can do better than this.

About Sam Walker 1512 Articles
Sam Walker was news director for, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3 from August 2011 to March 2022.