On Nov. 17, Wake County Public School System Superintendent Dr. James “Jim” Merrill was named North Carolina’s Superintendent of the Year, becoming the only North Carolina Superintendent to win the state award twice. Merrill was named Superintendent of the Year in 2005 while working for the Alamance-Burlington School System. He was again awarded the same title while serving as a top administrator of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Beginning his career in the 1970s as a teacher and coach within the Winston-Salem/Forsyth county schools, Merrill has worked in education for forty years, sixteen of which were with Wake County. In the summer of 2013, Dr. Merrill became the ninth superintendent of Wake County, the nation’s sixteenth largest district which has 177 schools and enrolls about 160,000 students. Merrill says a large portion of his re-election can be credited to his dedication to the district’s Strategic Plan document that calls for the district to “annually graduate at least ninety-five percent of its students ready for productive citizenship as well as higher education or a career.” Merrill, speaking on the current Wake County education system, says, “I’ve never been more urgent or convinced about the importance of shifting how we’re working with kids and preparing them upon graduation for what comes next.”
Due to the re-districting of North Carolina’s districts, many school board position were open for re-election, including that of Zora Felton as a Wake County Public School System board member. In an unexpected and unfortunate turn of events, Felton, 65, passed away on Wednesday, Nov. 16 after missing Tuesday’s school board meeting due to what she told her colleagues was a headache. Felton had run unopposed for a two-year term. According to school chairman Tom Benton, “She has devoted almost two-thirds of her life to the students of Wake County, and these past few years to the Wake County System.” Felton had graduated locally from both Sanderson High School and North Carolina State University before returning to Sanderson in 1973 to teach social studies for ten years. After taking time off, Felton later taught at Leesville High School from 1998 to 2013 when she retired in order to run for the school board office. Felton was then elected to the District 7 seat, allowing her to represent northwestern Raleigh, Morrisville, and part of Cary.
“Zora Felton never lost her focus on what mattered most,” Merrill wrote later in an email sent to faculty, students, and parents of Wake County. “This is a difficult day for all of us. We have lost a friend and colleague who dedicated her career for our school system.”
Felton’s service will take place today in Raleigh.