Education

Beaufort County schools interim superintendent: 'I'll try not to be controversial'

New Beaufort County interim superintendent Herbert Berg, seen here in 2013, takes a new approach to public information.
New Beaufort County interim superintendent Herbert Berg, seen here in 2013, takes a new approach to public information. Courtesy of The (Camden, SC) Chronicle-Independent

In a rare unanimous vote, the Beaufort County Board of Education selected an interim superintendent Thursday to replace embattled schools chief Jeff Moss and, in the words of one board member, help "move the district forward."

The board, which is normally split into factions, voted to hire veteran educator Herbert Berg in an 11-0 vote.

"We as board members come together very seldom, and the fact that the entire board saw him as a very strong leader for the district during the next year was telling," board member JoAnn Orischak said Friday morning.

Berg, who retired in 2011, has worked as a superintendent for more than 35 years in Washington state, Virginia and South Carolina. He was named Superintendent of the Year in 2006 and was twice named among the Top 100 American School Superintendents by the American Association of School Administrators.

Berg served as superintendent of South Carolina's Kershaw County Schools from 2003 to 2007 and Lexington-Richland 5 from 2008 to 2011.

Board Chair Earl Campbell said Berg was the most qualified candidate for the position.

"I think he will help to move the district forward and be the best, so that we can keep moving ahead," Campbell said Thursday night.

Berg said Friday morning that he sees the group's 11-0 vote as the "first step to bringing consensus to the board."

"We have an important job to educate 22,000 students, and we ought to be united around how we can do that in the best way we can," he said.

Berg said he hopes to be "a moderating factor" during the upcoming school year.

"I'll try not to be controversial," he said. "I'll try to be someone who can reach out, reach across the aisles and bring the board and community together."

In at least one of Berg’s former superintendent roles, he was described as having cleaned up the district.

Alexandria, Virginia, school board members told the Washington Post in 2001 that before Berg took over, test scores were falling and constituents’ faith in the district was at an all-time low. Berg also faced a divided nine-member school board, not unlike the one he will encounter in Beaufort County.

But, in the end, Berg "succeeded in his mission of improving the image of the schools," according to an op-ed in the Post written by a teacher in the district.

Beaufort County school board member David Striebinger said he hopes Berg can help the local board make similar progress.

"Our biggest problem is that we need to restore trust with the citizens, and hopefully, he can help us do that," Striebinger said Friday. "... The way the board partners with this interim is really going to determine if we can regain trust."

During Berg's time at the Lexington-Richland school district, voters passed a $244 million referendum — the first time an interim superintendent passed a referendum in the state, according to Berg's resume. As a result, the district developed plans to build a new high school, middle school and a career and technical education center, the resume says.

Berg’s accomplishments at that school district are in stark contrast to the Beaufort County school board's two attempts to pass similar referendums.

Over the span of two years, voters have denied the Beaufort County district millions of dollars to fund school construction projects.

The most recent $76 million bond referendum was rejected on an unprecedented scale — 72 percent against and 28 percent in favor.

Board member Geri Kinton said the board has not discussed the possibility of another referendum since April's failure.

"It wasn't that (Berg) passed a referendum but that he had the leadership to have a referendum pass in such a short time," Kinton said of Berg's efforts.

The board interviewed seven potential candidates for the interim position — one internal candidate and six from outside the district.

Other candidates included:

  • Gary McCulloch – Principal of River Ridge Academy from 2015-2018 and principal of Beaufort Elementary from 2013-15.

  • Don Doggett – Superintendent of the McCormick County School District from 2016-2018.

  • Donna Hargens – Superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky from 2011-17.

  • Gene Moore – Superintendent in the Lancaster County School District from 2006-17.

  • Vernon Prosser – Superintendent in York District 1 from 2009-2018.

  • Jesse Washington – Superintendent of Orangeburg Consolidated District 5 from 2015-18.

The board plans to wait to hire a permanent superintendent until after a new board is installed in January.

At Thursday's meeting, a committee was formed of seven board members who will choose a search firm to lead the superintendent search.

Berg said he has no intention of becoming the district's permanent superintendent.

"I plan to work closely with school board and the community as they work through the process of filling the permanent position," he said. "I want to help them find somebody that's really great for the job."

Berg will officially start his role on Aug. 1, but plans to visit for one week in June and July to meet with staff, senior leadership and the community in order to "study the issues from the ground," he said.

The details of Berg's contract, including his annual salary and benefits package, will not be available until at least early next week, according to Charles Boykin, the attorney representing the district in negotiations.

Although the terms of the contract have been settled, both parties need to sign it before it's released, Boykin said.

Moss offered his resignation to the board after a two-hour, closed-door meeting on May 15.

His resignation, which takes effect July 31, capped an end to a five-year tenure plagued by ethics violations, the two failed referendums and an ongoing FBI investigation related to the construction of two schools that were built during his time in Beaufort County.

Moss will receive a $220,000 lump sum, equal to one year’s salary for the 2018-19 school year, to be paid Aug. 1, according to the agreement.

He also will receive a $44,000 retirement fund contribution, as well as an unspecified amount of unused annual and sick leave.

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