By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Almost seven months after the resignation of Dr. Samuel King, the Norfolk School Board on October 8 during a special session hired his replacement, Dr. Melinda Boone, as the new Superintendent of the Norfolk Public Schools (NPS).
Her new position will be effective December 1, 2015.
Dr. Boone has more than three decades of experience in education and since 2009 has served as superintendent of Worchester Public Schools, the third largest urban school district in Massachusetts.
The majority of Dr. Boone’s experience is in Virginia, including eight years with Norfolk Public Schools, where she served as chief academic officer from 2005 to 2009 and executive director of elementary schools from 2001 to 2005.
On the same day that the board announced Boone’s hiring, it was slightly overshadowed by controversy.
During the 2008-2009 school year, three teachers at Lafayette Winona Middle School were accused of being involved in an academic test cheating scandal. Dr. Boone was Assistant Superintendent of Academic Affairs.
An investigation did not link her to the scandal. But soon after the Norfolk School Board announced she was hired on October 8, local media outlets were quick to report that a similar situation was being investigated by education officials in Worchester.
The NPS board was not fazed by the report and potential controversy.
One of the newest members of the school board, Yvonne Wagner, defended her colleagues’ selection of Dr. Boone.
Wagner told the New Journal and Guide that when Dr. Boone left Norfolk in 2009, as the so called test scandal was unfolding, she “was not responsible or connected to it.”
“If you remember three other people were involved with that incident at Lafayette Winona Middle School,” said Wagner. “She left for a new job in Massachusetts. And just before she accepted the job in Norfolk, she was given a contract extension.
“So because of her background, we vetted her and the other 36 applicants for the vacancy,” said Wagner. “Dr. Boone has done her research … she is familiar with Norfolk. When she arrives here we want to clean up all the questions and cobwebs that are out there.”
Wagner said that because of Dr. Boone’s experience in a diversified school system, “she will have a plan to deal with some of the issues we are facing here.”
Wagner said Boone “believes that accountability is not just about test scores. She believes in the holistic educational experience for children. That means the social and economic. If a child comes to school hungry, education is not a priority for them, but eating will be. She will be out in the community engaging the families and their the children talk to her about her plans.”
Wagner said that when Boone left the NPS in 2009, SOL test scores for third graders were significant higher than they were as recently as 2014, especially for Black students.
In 2009, 78 percent of Black third graders did well on the reading part of the Standards of Learning Test. In 2014, only 53 percent did.
Additional experiences include serving as assistant superintendent for educational services, coordinator of pupil personnel and testing, director of special education/pupil services, supervisor of special education, and speech language pathologist.
“I am honored to be selected as superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools,” said Dr. Boone, “There is no greater honor than to be called back home to serve and lead in the community that has meant so much to me professionally and personally. Norfolk Public Schools provided me the opportunity to further develop and refine my leadership skills in running an urban district and best practices in school turnaround.”
Rodney Jordan, chairman of the Norfolk School Board, believes Dr. Boone will be a great fit for the division. “Visionary, experienced, home grown, expertise in curriculum and instruction, track record of developing strong community and business involvement in schools … these were just some of the qualifications Norfolk said we wanted in our next superintendent.
“Dr. Boone comes back home to us with all of those and more. We will commit ourselves to a highly effective working relationship with Dr. Boone and she with teachers and administrators committed to success of all our students.”
Dr. Boone earned a doctorate in educational administration from the College of William and Mary, a certificate of advanced study in educational administration from Old Dominion University, a master of arts in audiology from the University of Illinois, and a bachelor of arts in communication disorders from Hampton University.