Russell Schools will not seek another term on Southampton School Board

Published 7:23 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

COURTLAND— Like his marriage of nearly 56 years, Russell Schools believes in commitment.

After applying on a whim for a one-year term on the Southampton County School Board, he stuck out the job for 41 years through some of the district’s most trying times, including desegregation of schools. During Monday’s School Board meeting, the 77-year-old announced he would not seek another four-year term.

“I do not plan to get into the contest. I think I’ve done enough,” Schools told the board before quickly moving on with the agenda.

Superintendent Charles Turner said Tuesday Schools has done a remarkable job as the board’s leader.

“Chairman Schools has evidenced dedication, commitment and service during his tenure on the Southampton County School Board and as chairman of the board,” Turner said. “His leadership skills have been of immeasurable value to Southampton County Public Schools. It has been a privilege to have served with such a respected and outstanding leader.”

Schools represents the Capron District. His term expires June 30.

A public hearing for candidates interested in the $5,000-a-year job will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 5, at the administration building in Courtland. As of Tuesday, no one had applied. Candidates need not apply, but have to attend the hearing.

An appointment will be made during an 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 12, meeting.

In 1971, former school board member Paul Camp Marks approached the then-36-year-old Schools about taking his seat.

“He was retiring from the school board because one of his daughters wanted to work in the library and it would’ve been a conflict of interest,” Schools said. “He came to me. I hadn’t thought about it.”

A father of three, Schools was appointed to 10 terms; he was challenged once in 1976.

When Schools began serving, Drewryvlle, Newsoms, Boykins, Courtland, Ivor and Capron had two schools — one for whites and one for blacks. There also were Riverview and Southampton high schools and a school in Hunterdale.

“Then came the integration laws,” he said. “We closed one school (in each community) and made Riverview a middle school. We had to change from that to integrated schools. It was quite a time in the county with people’s ideas and how they thought it should be done.”

A Virginia Peanut retiree, Schools also experienced the district being under a 25-year federal court order to totally integrate. The order was lifted 10 to 15 years ago.

“Every once in a while, the Justice Department would come in and take a look at how we were doing,” he said.

Over the years, Schools considered retirement, but something always came up.

“I have served with three superintendents. First was Bill Harvile, then Dr. Howard Waynewright and Charles Turner. I was going to stop when Dr. Waynewright was hired because my term was coming up. At the same time, he was going to start the next year and said ‘Please don’t retire now. I need you to lead me by the hand.’”

And then there were building projects that Schools stuck around for, including the most recent — the construction of Riverdale Elementary School. Schools also wanted to be involved in finding a replacement for Turner, who will retire on June 30.

In April, the school board hired Turner’s replacement, Dr. Alvera Parrish, the superintendent of Petersburg City Schools.

As time went on, serving on the school board became more complicated, Schools said.

“There’s so many things you have to look at — all the mandates that come down from the state and trying to keep everyone happy. It’s almost an impossible task.”

Schools and his wife, Fay, are the parents of Russell Schools Jr., 54, a graduate of Old Dominion University who works as a counselor for the state prison in Capron; Lynn Heacock, 52, a homemaker who got her bachelor’s degree from Averett University and master’s from the University of Richmond; and Todd, 45, a graduate of Virginia Tech who travels the world while working as a mechanical engineer for Emerson Co.