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As someone who’s spent 13 years as a school superintendent and four decades as a teacher and administrator fostering the personal achievement and enrichment of others — all in Haywood County — it’s finally time for Dr. Anne Garrett to focus on her own goals and dreams.

“I think 40 years is a long time to do this, and it was just a good time for me. I think our school system is in really great shape. We’ve got good academics and a sound budget right now, we’re not having to close any schools or do anything negative,” Garrett said. “I think it’s just a good time to make that transition.”

By coincidence, Haywood County Schools has, since about the same time as Shining Rock Classical Academy been readying itself to hire a new key employee as well, but the circumstances couldn’t be more dissimilar.

Jackson County is getting closer to choosing a replacement for former school superintendent Mike Murray after school board members held a four-hour meeting last week to sort through resumés.

The Swain County Board of Education has named Janet Clapsaddle as interim superintendent of schools after the retirement of Superintendent Sam Pattillo.

Mark Woods will retire as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway on July 3, but on July 4 he’ll don the flathat one last time as grand marshal of the Lake Junaluska Fourth of July Parade. 

“That was a surprise, to get that call,” Woods said. “We have family here, and every year there’s a family reunion that’s been going on for years at Lake Junaluska, so I’ve been coming here for as long as I’ve been married. To me this area is so special.”

After six years at the helm of Jackson County Public Schools, Superintendent Mike Murray will be leaving for a new position at Cherokee Central Schools this summer.

out frAsked what a typical day for the head guy at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park looks like, new Smokies superintendent Cassius Cash laughs.  

“Wow, let’s look at the calendar,” he says. 

Since starting the job in February, he’s kept pretty busy. As it turns out, when you’re the new superintendent of an 800-square-mile national park spanning two states, a lot of people want to meet with you. Staff want to hear from you. There’s a litany of issues to become familiar with, an endless inventory of park sites and experiences to log.

fr tunnelgraffitiSwain County officials are hoping new leadership in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park means the start of a new relationship — one that will include better communication between the park and the county that is a gateway community. 

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman once again has landed squarely in the crosshairs of a group devoted to protecting that legally mandated chasm between state and church.

Brigman sent a December email to his employees that included the line: “And finally, Christmas is a time of joy and celebration as we have already received the ultimate gift and sacrifice that continues to present each of us with hope.”

And in a similar message posted on the schools’ website under “superintendent’s blog,” Brigman wrote: “And finally, Christmas is a time of joy and celebration as we have already received the ultimate gift and sacrifice that continues to present each of us with hope.”

Big no-nos, according the national group Freedom from Religion Foundation, which last year also censured Brigman after the Rev. Daniel “Cowboy” Stewart served as a commencement speaker for tiny Nantahala School in the northwestern corner of Macon County.

Stewart offered prayers at the graduation and delivered a sermon that involved wrapping a student volunteer in ropes to demonstrate the hold of the devil. Brigman initially defended Stewart’s performance but later, under pressure, conceded that the vetting procedure by Macon County Schools for speakers had failed.

Rebecca Markert, attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sent a letter to the school system at that time after a local resident contacted the foundation expressing concerns about the commencement. Her letter asked that the school system take “immediate steps to ensure that religious ritual and proselytizing” stay out of graduations in the future, which Brigman said it would do.

Markert, contacted following this more recent incident, said she was amazed that after such a recent go-round Brigman would again openly defy what the foundation considers a clear and unmistakable instance of violating the separation of church and state. A Macon County resident, as before, contacted the foundation with complaints.

“It just seems really surprising since we were in such recent contact that he’d make these overtly religious messages not only to the staff, but to the public,” Markert said from her office in Wisconsin. “I think he crossed the line and it was proselytizing.”

In her letter to Brigman this time, Markert wrote in part: “It is grossly inappropriate for you, as superintendent of Macon County Schools, to include religious references in any official public school email or blog posting, especially when those communications reach students. You, as a public school employee, have a duty to remain neutral towards religion.”

Markert noted that Brigman used a public school email account, which “cannot be used as a means of imposing your own personal religious beliefs.”

“As the ultimate educational role model for your district, it is incumbent upon you to not model unconstitutional communication lest it be emulated by principals and teachers who follow your lead,” she wrote.

For his part, Brigman said he is fully cognizant of the federal law mandating the separation of church and state.

“I am award of what can and can’t be done,” Brigman said. “I meant to wish (his staff) a Merry Christmas.”

Brigman said he planned to send Markert and the foundation a letter acknowledging their concerns.

Markert said there wouldn’t be additional fallout if Brigman did indeed follow through by doing that as promised.

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