RALEIGH — Former Wake County Public Schools board chair Keith Sutton has settled into his new role as superintendent of Warren County Public Schools.
In a statement posted to the Warren County schools website, Sutton said, “I feel like my years of working as an education consultant, advocate, legislative liaison, community organizer, and policy maker, in addition to my years of service as a member of the Wake County Board of Education, have all led me to this moment and this opportunity in Warren County.
“Warren County Schools has a great team that I’m honored to work with every day and we have promising students, eager to learn.”
Sutton’s contract as permanent superintendent of Warren County schools spans Jan. 1 to June 30, 2025.
A copy of Sutton’s new contract obtained by North State Journal shows a base compensation of $135,000 annually. Increases to salary will depend on state adjustments to the maximum allotment for superintendents. He will also receive any state-adopted central office administrative bonuses.
Typical of superintendent contracts, Warren County Schools will pay up to $2,000 annually for memberships in civic organizations and skills development. Sutton will also receive a monthly job-related travel allowance of $350.
“Mr. Sutton has done an excellent job over the past four and a half months in Warren County, making recommendations and decisions that have significantly impacted our students and staff for the better,” Warren County Schools Board of Education Chair Jennifer Sims said in the statement. “With his long standing track record of educational service and advocacy, we’re excited to have Mr. Sutton’s leadership and experience working to benefit our families and the Warren County community.”
Sutton’s new superintendent contract also stipulates he must complete the Next Generation Superintendent Development Program or a similar approved program. The district will also pay for that training.
According to N.C. Department of Public Instruction Communications Director Blair Rhoades, “Per State Board policy a person can be hired as a non-traditional candidate if they have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and five years of leadership or managerial experience that the local hiring board deems relevant.”
In the months before he left WCPSS for Warren County schools, Sutton apparently completed a nine-month long Urban Superintendents Academy. The course was offered through the AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
The state of North Carolina requires certain education requirements for superintendents to obtain school administrator licenses, such as having an advanced graduate degree (six years) in school administration or a bachelor’s degree plus five years of relevant experience. Also, passing the School Leaders Licensure Assessment.
There is no active administrator or educator license yet on file with the state for Sutton.
Filling Sutton’s district four seat has created chaos over the past month, with the Wake school board voting to approve Craston Artis for the spot only to have him withdraw after it became apparent he was not a resident of that district before he applied. The board has subsequently reopened the selection process.
Sutton first joined Wake County’s school board in 2009. He resigned from the board of Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) on Dec. 31, 2021, after spending most of the year serving both as WCPSS board chair and interim superintendent of Warren County Public Schools.
The double-duty drew criticism from parents and the public, questioning whether or not serving in both roles was a conflict of interest.
During a closed session on May 25, 2021, Warren County’s school board approved the hiring of Sutton as interim superintendent over the time period of July 1 through Dec. 31, 2021. The board later unanimously approved making the appointment permanent at a meeting on Nov. 15, 2021. Warren schools has only around 1,700 students, compared to WCPSS’ estimated 155,000.
In the past, Sutton had served as president of the Triangle Urban League and was also executive director of the North Carolina NAACP. He ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for state superintendent in 2020 and was also involved with campaign work for two Democrats: former U.S. Rep. Eva Clayton and former Gov. Beverly Perdue.
In December 2014, Sutton created some controversy by wearing a t-shirt to the board meeting that read “#BlackLivesMatter.” Sutton gave a speech about almost being arrested in 2010 during protests over diversity busing. Some 21 people who were arrested over the course of four WCPSS board meetings, including former NC NAACP head Rev. William Barber, pleaded guilty to trespassing in 2012.
During his 2014 remarks on racial disparities in schools, he also referred to the Eric Garner case, a man who died after a New York City police officer used a chokehold on him.
“I often wonder had I reacted differently, had I reacted in a manner that displayed how upset I really was, would my life not have been different?” Sutton said in 2014 of the 2010 incident. “And if that arrest hold hadn’t gone to an improperly applied chokehold.”