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An early morning fire Thursday that totally destroyed the former Tuck Enterprise building on US 360 resulted in an estimated $500,000 loss.

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Mecklenburg trustees reschedule for July 31 to talk contract extension for Thornton / July 23, 2014
The Mecklenburg County School Board has rescheduled its planned meeting to renegotiate the contract of Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thornton. Originally set for July 23, the meeting has been pushed back to next Thursday, July 31 at 7 p.m. at the Central Office complex in Boydton.

School Board Chairman Robert Puryear said he was forced to change the date because he would not be available to attend on July 23, the date he initially set for the meeting. However, the new date of July 31 will preclude attendance by trustee Dale Sturdifen, who will be out of town and unavailable.

Sturdifen has expressed opposition to any plans to extend Thornton’s contract.

The proposed contract extension for Thornton was defended by Puryear this week in a letter to the editor sent to local newspapers and posted on-line on the school division’s Facebook page. “Four years ago, Dr. Thornton was given the task of increasing the on-time graduation rate, dual enrollment program, number of students graduating with an advanced studies diploma, and number of career and technical certificates. As presented at school board meetings, Dr. Thornton and his team have successfully completed all of these tasks with great success achieved by our students,” Puryear wrote in a Viewpoint letter to The Sun, published on page A5 of today’s edition.

“The board collectively believes he has done an impressive job,” he continued.

Puryear praised Thornton and his staff for reaching “out to the division staff, parents, and the community to develop a five year strategic plan” and updating the curriculum to stress “21st century skills such as innovation, problem solving, and thinking outside the box to meet the needs of our students.”

Thornton has two years left on his four-year contract.

The chairman of the Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership — a non-profit, private sector group that seeks to boost county school programs — offered a starkly more downbeat assessment of Thornton’s performance as superintendent. Chris Bailey, MCBEP chairman, sent a letter to trustees this week asking them to hold off on the vote to extend Thornton’s contract. Instead, he encouraged the trustees to focus on improving student performance on Virginia SOL tests, which he argued lags behind the results from peer school divisions in the region.

“To hear talk of extending contracts when you as an elected official have no guarantee that your time in office will be likewise extended, seems to be another exercise in irresponsibility,” Bailey wrote to the trustees. He said the School Board should demand improvement on county SOL test scores before considering a contract extension for Thornton: “To use a business analogy, it is akin to managers of a company asking the owner to put another large sum of money into their leadership when they incurred substantial monetary losses each of the last four years. Some of you are business owners and you would never tolerate that sort of trend.”

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The thought of having an old board extend the contract of a superintendent with such poor performance before an election is disgusting. However, that kind of manipulation and under-handed political maneuvering is the hallmark of this superintendent. I am sure Dr. Thornton learned the importance of making this kind of assurance when people he fired were elected to the Cumberland School Board and he was booted. Even though I was born and raised in Mecklenburg the incompetence and behavior of this school board make me ashamed of the place.

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