The best thing any community can have is a public schools superintendent passionate about education and committed to children. As Moore County Schools Superintendent Bob Grimesey retires this week after more than seven years in the post and a 40-year career in education, he can never be accused of not leading with his heart.
Passion has been Grimesey’s lodestar. It has also been his Achilles heel.
For all his many accomplishments as superintendent, “Dr. Bob” also let that passion get the better of him. Powered by the courage of his convictions, he at times outpaced his own supporters, getting too far ahead where he couldn’t be as effective. And as valuable as passion and conviction are, so too are the abilities to negotiate and read tea leaves.
Moore County has seen all manner of superintendents: strong leaders like Robert E. Lee and Susan Purser, who led with conviction and a deft touch; controversial leaders, like Patrick Russo, who had his share of scandals; and cameo superintendents like Aaron Spence, who spent barely three years here between 2012 and 2014.
On balance, Moore County is much improved for Grimesey’s service.
‘It’s About Us’
Grimesey inherited a school district that was good but, according to its vision statement, sought to “grow to greatness.” The county was growing, and so was the district. Although financially sound, the district was too reliant on savings, the county wasn’t investing enough, and the physical shape of schools was sad.
But he never lost sight of the children. He went alone into schools, spending hours every week. He ate school lunches, worked math problems, chased ostriches, wore silly hats while reading and never left a classroom without thanking the teacher.
“It’s not necessarily about the superintendent, it’s about us,” Grimesey said in his first public speech in Moore County. “There is a lot of exciting vision, direction, and a lot of new ideas here, and plenty of really intentioned focus on children.”
He created a special focus on the children of military families, even making room in the central office staff for a district military liaison.
He spent a great deal of goodwill ensuring Moore County upgraded its schools. Millions have been spent on digital learning for students and technology for schools. He successfully led the investment in building four new elementary schools, a massive expansion at North Moore High and smaller-but-crucial upgrades at other schools.
Grimesey pursued his vision for success, but it was certitude in that vision that tripped him up. He never quite warmed up to local politics and the Board of Commissioners, arbiters of local education spending. Sometimes, they were on the same page, but oftentimes not. Budget presentations were always strained and felt like a high-stakes battle. Grimesey privately viewed these confrontations as “I’m right, they’re wrong.” He wasn’t necessarily wrong, but he lacked the political skills to negotiate on certain points.
Grimesey also ignored community hesitancy on drawing new attendance lines to balance demographics and ease crowding. He pushed the school board forward, convinced it was the right thing to do. In retrospect, it was rushed and forced in places. The goodwill of 2018 is gone.
No leader is all bad, or all good either. They are, instead, often a reflection of the people they lead. On that, Grimesey was a man for the people, even if the people weren’t always for the man.
“We’re going to act decisively, own our problems, and command our solutions on behalf of children in the future,” he said in those first-day remarks 7 ½ years ago. “We will do so with great vigor, great vitality and we will be advocates for children and work tirelessly for them. That has always been Moore County and will continue to be Moore County for a long time to come.”
Bob Grimesey reflected our passion, even if we didn’t always reflect his.