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RSS picks Guilford County Schools administrator as next superintendent

SALISBURY — Tony Watlington, a district-level administrator for Guilford County Schools, was named superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools on Monday.

The RSS Board of Education met Monday for about 40 minutes in closed session before unanimously approving a contract to hire Watlington. He will replace outgoing Superintendent Lynn Moody, who will retire on Dec. 31, and receive an annual salary of $185,000. His contract also includes $500 per month for in-county business travel, standard reimbursement for out-of-county travel and $1,000 per year for civic and professional group memberships.

His contract outlines a three-and-a-half-year term to begin “no later than” Feb. 8 and run through June 30, 2024.

Watlington said he became interested in the district after meeting with and getting to know the board as well as Moody because they care about educating all kids. He added the work being done with Rowan-Salisbury’s renewal status was impressive and that all 114 other districts in the state are looking at RSS.

“I really feel like your core values and my core values match up perfectly,” Watlington told the board.

Watlington called up his three sons to the podium and spoke about the importance of keeping promises he teaches to them.

“If you look a man or a woman in the eye and you give them your word, that means something,” Watlington said. “It means more than anything you write on a piece of paper. It means more than the world. Your word is your bond, and I promise you that I will be that kind of superintendent working in partnership with this Board of Education and under the leadership of this Board of Education.”

School board member Jean Kennedy said she was impressed with both interviews the board held with Watlington. Kennedy said board members would be there to support and guide him.

Board member Alisha Byrd-Clark said she backs Watlington “completely.” Board member Josh Wagner said, barring an urgent matter, Monday was his last meeting because he didn’t seek re-election and that he would “not have the privilege” of working with Watlington. Wagner added he believed Watlington’s excitement about education will be beneficial.

In a news release, Board of Education Chairman Kevin Jones said he was “excited for the opportunity to have Dr. Watlington jump on board with our district at a time when we have so many things to be excited about.”

“Dr. Moody laid the groundwork for what our district can become. We believe Dr. Watlington can continue to move us along this same path,” Jones said.

Watlington has worked in his current role as chief of schools for Guilford County Schools, a position in the superintendent’s cabinet, for the previous three years. He’s also held other administrative roles within Guilford County Schools, including chief strategic planning officer, central region superintendent, executive director of the central region and executive director for school support. The central region of Guilford County Schools is similar in size to RSS. As a whole, Guilford County Schools has 70,000 students. That’s compared to about 18,000 in RSS.

Before he became a district-level administrator, Watlington was principal at three Guilford County schools — two of which received awards for improving most within the district. Watlington was hired as a history teacher with Guilford County Schools in 1994 and was recognized as district teacher of the year four years later.

He’s a New Jersey native who moved to North Carolina and grew up in Harnett County. He is a first-generation college graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree from N.C. Agricultural and Technical University, a master’s degree in American political history from The Ohio State University and a master’s of school administration as well as a doctorate of education leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Watlington also has been awarded training certificates by Harvard and Yale.

He enjoys spending time with his family, volunteering, CrossFit training, running 5K races, traveling to historic sites, playing guitar, enjoying good food and conversations and an occasional basketball game with his three sons, Tony Jr., Aaron and Caleb.

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