She informed the board of her decision during a special-called meeting and work session held June 11, announcing that her retirement would become effective Sept. 1.
“I would like folks in Jackson County to know that my family’s here in Jackson and we plan to remain,” she said in an interview. “We love Jackson County, and quite truly the superintendancy in Jackson County has been the highlight of my 34-year career. We’ll be around and hopefully be active community members.”
Elliott became the district’s superintendent on Feb. 2, 2018, receiving a four-year contract with a base salary of $120,132, plus benefits and any applicable local or state salary supplements. The board amended the contract in August 2019, adding an additional year to extend it through June 30, 2023, and giving her a raise of $8,500.
However, she had held the position in an interim capacity since former Superintendent Mike Murray left the district for a position as superintendent of Cherokee Central Schools on June 30, 2017. Elliott served as assistant superintendent under Murray and had been in the district for five years when she was named as his successor. However, she has worked as a public school administrator in North Carolina since 1999, with 34 years in education all told.
In an interview, Elliott said that she had been planning to retire sometime this year and could have left as early as July. However, she decided to stay on a little longer to see the district through this exceptionally challenging summer.
“I felt it was very important that I stay to see the opening of schools so that I can rest easy that students and faculty and staff are safe with the parameters that we are setting for COVID-19,” she said.
Throughout the week, said Elliott, she’s on conference calls with fellow superintendents and chief academic officers, and she has weekly phone calls with Jackson County Health Director Shelley Carraway and Western Carolina University Chancellor Kelli Brown. The goal of all those conversations is to keep a close eye on what’s happening with the coronavirus and to devise a menu of plans for the 2020-2021 school year in light of that threat.
“It is hinted that at some point we will have in-person school, and superintendents across the state are waiting for the two-week timeline for the governor to give us more specific guidance,” she said. “We are, however, working on plans A, B and C right now.”
Plan A is for a reopening of face-to-face school on Aug. 17, while Plan B would be a hybrid model of in-person and virtual instruction. Plan C would rely solely on remote learning.
In a letter to the board dated June 11, Elliott said that she’s proud of the improvements in school safety, student support services, professional development, strategic planning, curriculum design, teaching and learning, business and financial processes, facility repair, HR processes, employee benefits programs, efficiencies and cost savings, partnerships and grant acquisition, equity and hiring that have taken place during her tenure.
Additionally, she said, she’s proud that the district has been able to maintain all its staff positions in the midst of the pandemic.
Elliott said that she will support the selection process for the new superintendent however needed and will work to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“We are very sad she’s leaving,” School Board Chair Ali Laird-Large said in an interview.
The board will appoint an interim superintendent to lead the district while it searches for a permanent hire, Laird-Large said, but that person has not yet been selected.
Elliott, who lives in Whittier with her husband and her Maltese, said that she is working to launch an LLC called Elliott and Associates Educational Consulting, which she will pursue following her retirement. She is working with other Southeastern educators on the project and plans to focus consulting services on school and district leadership.