Innovative school superintendent ready to retire

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.comKANNAPOLIS ó After leading Kannapolis City Schools to “new heights,” superintendent Dr. Jo Anne Byerly announced Friday that she will retire.
Byerly will end her 40-year career in public education on June 30, 2010.
“She has taken this school system to new heights and paved the way for a very bright future,” said Danita Rickard, chairperson for the Board of Education.
Byerly’s leadership in the Kannapolis City Schools, particularly as superintendent for the past 9 years, will leave a lasting legacy, Rickard said.
“We all knew that day was coming, and we will be very sorry when it arrives,” Rickard said. “But she has certainly earned it.”
Under Byerly’s leadership, Kannapolis City Schools is the only district in North Carolina to win back-to-back state technology grants worth more than $4 million.
Byerly was one of the first community leaders to forge a partnership with the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, a $1.5 billion life sciences hub founded by Dole Food Co. owner David Murdock.
She led the effort to create the new $11 million Biotechnology Academy at A.L. Brown High School, which will offer molecular biology, biophysics, horticulture, medical science and more.
The high school already offers genetics and biotechnology, Mandarin Chinese, Latin and additional high-level classes.
Byerly said she will retire for personal reasons.
“I love this school system, and I’ll always be a part of it,” she said. “But after almost 40 years in education, I feel it’s time for me to spend more time with my family and to let someone else have the chance to lead this wonderful school system.”
The school board will begin searching for her replacement immediately.
Under Byerly’s guidance, A.L. Brown added a Freshman Academy to cut the dropout rate, and every school in the system, including the high school, requires students to wear uniforms to reduce bullying and improve the learning atmosphere.
Shortly after she became superintendent in 2001, Byerly added preschool classes to Kannapolis City Schools to supplement the Head Start program. The district now serves nearly 300 preschool children.
Kannapolis schools have a statewide reputation for innovation, a result of Byerly’s leadership, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Morris said.
“She values the people who work for her and let’s them take risks and try new things,” Morris said. “She’s proactive and doesn’t sit back and wait for things to happen. She’s able to see the big picture and see the future and be the leader in helping us all to get there.”
Retired former superintendent Dr. Ed Tyson, who Byerly replaced, said she “makes everybody better.”
Byerly’s people skills, combined with an ability to tackle tough issues, set her apart, Rickard said.
“If there’s a problem or a deficiency, she recognizes it and meets it head on and tries to correct it,” Rickard said. “Jo Anne Byerly is just extremely good at concentrating on the good but being realistic at the same time.”
Prior to becoming superintendent, Byerly worked as a teacher, reading director, communication skills coordinator, director of instruction, assistant superintendent and associate superintendent.
Byerly earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Appalachian State University and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
By making her announcement now, Byerly has given the school board ample time to find a replacement, Rickard said.