A former board member with years of experience and a newcomer with extensive knowledge of public education were unanimously chosen to fill two of the four seats on the Moore County School Board made vacant by recent resignations.
The two new members, Pam Thompson, of Robbins, and Helena Wallin-Miller, a Pinehurst resident, represent two demographic elements that some say have been lacking on former boards.
"The citizens of Moore County expressed to us that they wanted a broad representation on the board, and we heard them loud and clear," said Moore County School Board Chairman Bruce Cunningham. "Before the resignation, we had no power over who signed up to run for a seat. But in light of the recent changes, we are now in a position to hand-pick members.
"The concept is mind-boggling. We have the opportunity to remake the board in response to what the public says they want, and we will continue to honor that until the process is complete."
The vacancies were created earlier this month when five of the eight school board members voted to terminate the contract of Superintendent Bob Grimesey. Reaction from the public toward the firing of the popular educator was swift, and resulted in both Grimesey's reinstatement and the resignation of four of the five board members who voted against him.
Thompson, who served as an at-large member on the Moore County Board of Education from 2006 through 2010, was asked to return to the board once again in an at-large seat. She was sworn in on June 17, at which time she resigned her position on the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees, where she had served since July 2011.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my previous service on the Moore County Board of Education, and have appreciated the board’s support in appointing me as their representative on the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees,” Thompson said after her swearing-in ceremony. “I’m pleased to return to the Board of Education to directly serve the interests of our students, teachers and employees in Moore County Schools and our community.”
Cunningham said that Thompson, who worked at FirstHealth Moore Regional in Pinehurst for 27 years and now serves as senior director of revenue cycle at Randolph Hospital in Asheboro, was chosen both for her abilities and for her connections to the college.
"One of our priorities is to work closely with Sandhills Community College regarding our dual enrollment process and the future concept high school, which may be set on the college campus," Cunningham said. "I believe Pam will be extremely helpful and knowledgeable about this process because she has experience on both boards and can hit the ground running in a priority area. We are fortunate to have her."
Thompson said she would "work hard" to promote collaboration between the two entities.
"Having the perspective of having been on both boards, I will work diligently to assist our dual enrollment students in their transition to their next phase, college, while continuing to see what other projects we can offer the students," she said.
"Regarding the concept school, I believe that locating it on the Sandhills campus will offer additional opportunities to these students because they would already be at the college. And I definitely want to make sure that the students have the transportation available to travel from their home schools to the concept school and back."
Thompson has been a member of the Moore County Schools' STEM Infusion team since 2012, and has served on the Moore County Schools’ 21st Century School Facilities Task Force. She holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration from UNC Greensboro.
She and her husband, Ronnie, live in Robbins. Their daughters, Adrena and Shana, both attended Moore County Schools and are graduates of North Moore High School.
Newcomer Helena Wallin-Miller was chosen from among a field of almost 50 applicants to represent District II. She was sworn in to the position on July 22.
"I have a strong interest in the budget of our schools, and I intend to dig into funding issues more fully now that I am on the board," Wallin-Miller said. "The school budget is complex, with a variety of funding sources and directed spending.
"I hope my presence helps engage the community in some dialogue about the impact of budget decisions made elsewhere, i.e., Raleigh, and the consequences those decisions have on our schools."
As a parent, Wallin-Miller frequently addressed the board in regard to budgeting issues and more. Cunningham said he was "thrilled" when she became a board member.
"Helena has regularly attended board of education meetings and actively involves herself in and researches the work of public education in North Carolina,” Cunningham said following her installation. “When she has participated in the public comment portion of the board’s regular monthly business meetings, I’ve often wished that she would run for a seat on the board. She’ll be an exceptional and knowledgeable board member.”
In an address to the board at their June 8 meeting prior to her becoming a member, Wallin-Miller said that "recent events," a reference to Grimesey's attempted termination, "have put doubts in my mind about how decision-making occurs regarding our schools."
"While I do not expect to agree with all decisions coming out of the board or the administration, I do expect these decisions to be based on what is best for the students of Moore County schools," she said.
"First and foremost, students need to be in the center of all decisions, both by the board and by the administration. As you ponder each vote, each decision, or each policy or staffing change, I expect you to be holding the students of Moore County schools in your heart. I urge you to begin each period of discernment of the important work you do with questions that put the students in the middle: What would be best for them? How will this impact their ability to learn and grow? How will this decision impact those that are directly responsible for the learning and growth and future of our children?"
Thompson said that while she didn't know Wallin-Miller prior to the board's June 22 meeting, she is "impressed" by her new colleague.
"I was moved by her speech before the board at their June 8 meeting," she said. "As I sat listening, her focus was on the needs of the schools, especially the children's and those of the teachers. I thought, 'Wow,' with everything going on, she is focusing on the system.'
"I think she will be a very valuable member. She seems to have a real passion for the schools, and it appears that she doesn't have her own agenda. I'm impressed with her open-minded attitude."
Wallin-Miller, who has 24 years of experience as a manager for human service projects, said Thompson's previous tenure on the board is a "true asset."
"From my first meeting with her last week, it is clear that she is able to hit the ground running," Wallin-Miller said. "Pam has a firm grasp of the major issues impacting the schools, has the professional background to ask just the right questions, and has a strong passion for our community and school system.
"I am looking forward to working with Pam and the rest of the board members in the coming year to make great things happen here in Moore County."
Wallin-Miller is employed by ICF International in Fairfax, Va., as a manager/expert consultant. She has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Claremont McKenna College and a master’s degree in public policy from the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, now the McCourt School of Public Policy, in Washington, D.C.
She and her husband, Chris, have two children, both of whom attended Pinehurst Elementary School last year.
With two additional appointments to follow, Cunningham said the process to select the first two had to be done "quickly but deliberately" to maintain the viability of the board.
"Our attorneys wanted us to go ahead and fill the two positions to ensure that the board would have a quorum and could continue its ability to govern," Cunningham said. "We filled the first two seats with people we were familiar with, and now plan to have a full board in place as soon as we are able.
"The board has full confidence in our first two selections, Pam Thompson and Helena Wallin-Miller, and know that they are up to the challenge. They are familiar with the issues confronting us, and we want to get busy right away."