By Dave Russell
In a closed session of a special meeting last Wednesday, the Jackson County Board of Education decided on a new school superintendent. In open session, the board voted 4-1 to name Dana Ayers as the new leader for the nine-school system.
Board Chair Ali Laird-Large cast the dissenting vote. Laird-Large did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ayers, a Dillsboro resident, has more than 21 years of experience in North Carolina public schools. She comes to the post from Asheville City Schools, where for three years she has served as chief academic officer.
In a 5-0 vote, the board named current Assistant Superintendent Jake Buchanan to the post of deputy superintendent.
Ayers grew up in Lincoln County, attending East Lincoln High School. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education from Belmont Abbey College and a masters in school administration from Western Carolina University.
She received an add-on academically/intellectually gifted licensure from WCU and a doctorate in educational leadership from the UNC-Charlotte.
Prior to her work in Asheville, Ayers served 19 years in Lincoln County Schools. She began her tenure there in 1999 as an elementary school teacher.
Her last position there was principal at Lincolnton Middle School, where she was named the county’s principal of the year in 2017.
Ayers’ guiding philosophy of education stems from her desire for students and staff to see their full self-worth and potential and prepare for life after high school, she said.
“I’m all about kids going to college, but I am also a realist and understand that not every kid is a college-bound student,” Ayers said. “And that is OK. Our job as educators in a public school system is to equip them for whatever is going to happen after high school, whether it be a trade, the military, looking at a community college or a certificate program. It’s really important that we always focus on looking at the student and where they are going after their high school experience and making sure we equip them for that.
“I want to pique kids’ interest into something that is going to benefit them long-term and also make them a contributing member of society,” she said. “I want them to contribute to the community.”
Students’ time away from the classroom is a priority for her as well.
“Athletics is vitally important to me as are other extracurricular activities,” she said. “I think having an avenue, throughout a student’s school career, that coincides with academics produces more well-rounded young adults.”
Ayers and her family moved to Dillsboro in August, 2018.
Ayers’ husband, Phillip Ayers, and daughter Emily Alexander also attended WCU.
“We all loved the area and we just knew that one day we were going to come and live here,” she said.
The Ayers’ youngest son, Truman, is an 8th-grader at Fairview Elementary School.
Emily teaches first grade in Swain County. Son Josh Alexander and his wife, Taylor Alexander, and son Jace live in Shelby.
Phillip Ayers spent 25 years as a PE teacher at Battleground and Kiser elementary schools, then worked for one semester at Jackson Community School and now works as a teachers assistant in Cherokee with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians schools.
Ayers’ initial contract is for a four-year term beginning June 1.
She was chosen from a field of 21 applicants.
Her annual salary is $125,000, all coming from state funds with no local supplement, according to Human Resources Director Kevin Bailey.
Ayers takes the reins from Interim Superintendent Tony Tipton, hired at the July 28 board meeting. A 35-year veteran of public education, Tipton assumed the role held by Kim Elliott, who retired Sept. 1.
“It’s a title change for Jake (Buchanan),” Bailey said. “It’s not a new position or anything, he’s going from assistant superintendent to deputy superintendent, which in a lot of school systems is just seen as more seniority. It clearly defines that he is second in command.”
There will not be assistant or associate superintendents.
Buchanan did not get a pay-raise with the title change, remaining at his annual salary of $123,069.12, Bailey said.
Buchanan’s contract was renewed for four more years.