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Thornton steps down as Mecklenburg school superintendent

SoVaNow.com / May 22, 2015
The often-stormy tenure of Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools James Thornton has ended with Isle of Wright County Schools naming him as its new superintendent.

A press release issued Friday, May 22 by the Isle of Wright school division said, “Dr. James Thornton has been selected as the next superintendent of Isle of Wight County Schools by unanimous vote at today’s special school board meeting. His new position will be effective July 1, 2015.”

News of Thornton’s eminent departure came as a surprise to some members of the Mecklenburg County School Board, including trustee Glenn Edwards, a vociferous Thornton critic who said he learned of the news on the Internet.

A second board member, Dale Sturdifen, said he, too, was not informed by Thornton of his decision to leave.

According to The Daily Press of Newport News, Thornton has entered into a three-year contract with Isle of Wight schools starting July 1. His compensation includes a base salary of $142,500 annually.

Thornton also will have use of a car, cell phone, computer and iPad and will have a $10,000 annual allowance to attend professional development events, the newspaper reported.

The contract requires him to move to Isle of Wight by the end of the year, with the division paying $5,000 in moving expenses.

Thornton proved to be a controversial leader of the Mecklenburg County school division. Under his watch, the schools went from being fully accredited with two Blue Ribbon schools, to this past year with only one school fully accredited, one on academic watch, and one designated a focus school. Administrative turnover has been rampant at the Central Office, and his working relationship with the county Board of Supervisors has been stormy.

In the past year, he narrowly survived two attempts to oust him by a four-member minority of the School Board. A lawsuit brought by parents to terminate his contract ended with the judge presiding in the case ruling that the parents lacked standing to sue.

A former school administrator who worked with Thornton said, “I was shocked to hear the news” but expressed the hope that the community can come together for educational progress in Thornton’s aftermath.

When asked how he plans to proceed with the news of Thornton’s departure, Sturdifen said, “I will continue to represent and speak on behalf of my constituents, students, parents and employees of Mecklenburg County.”

He expressed confidence that the School Board would take the necessary steps to install an interim superintendent and also begin a search for Thornton’s replacement.

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