'This has quickly become my second home': Superintendent Jordan prepares for his Chatham goodbye


After more than 12 years as an educator in Chatham County Schools — and nearly eight as the district’s superintendent — Dr. Derrick Jordan will say goodbye in early 2021 to join the staff of N.C. Superintendent-elect Catherine Truitt at the state’s Department of Public Instruction.

During his tenure in Chatham, Jordan has championed transparency, advocated for student equity to decrease student achievement gaps and helped earn district-wide accreditation. In 2018, he was named Regional Superintendent of the Year for the Piedmont-Triad Region.

And he’s not finished yet — he plans to work hard every day until his last day as superintendent, he said in an interview with the News + Record, aiming to tie up as many loose ends for whoever the next interim superintendent will be.

“It has been a roller coaster of emotions because I had been in Chatham for a number of years and almost eight as the superintendent, and so under those circumstances I’ve made a number of relationships with folks, and this has quickly become my second home,” Jordan said of the decision to accept his new role as the DPI Assistant Superintendent of Agency Schools.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I had to weigh options and think about whether or not it would be a good move for me,” he said. “Ultimately I decided that this was an opportunity that I could not turn down.”

His departure comes amid the district’s grappling with the tough decisions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — a fact not missed by Jordan, who has steadily led the school system as it has navigated both remote and in-person learning. Along with the huge undertaking of work involved to open the new Seaforth High School next fall, Jordan is also hoping to make the transition of information regarding COVID-19 protocol as seamless as possible.

Over the last 10 months of CCS Board of Education meetings, Jordan has balanced supporting the board through its difficult decisions regarding COVID-19 while also advocating for students and teachers. Such support has not gone unappreciated by board members, several of whom thanked Jordan at their meeting Monday night.

“It’s been a tremendous honor to work with you,” board member Jane Allen Wilson said. “And the way you exemplify leadership that is truly visionary and collaborative — and with the teachers and children and students we serve in mind.”

The board began the process of identifying an interim superintendent in early December — ultimately selecting Dr. Randy Bridges, who comes from Orange County Schools, on Tuesday — but board chairperson Gary Leonard has repeatedly said the board could never hope to truly replace someone like Jordan.

“Any board of education would have a hard time keeping organizations from seeking and securing someone with the commitment to others, intellect and vision that Dr. Jordan brings to the table. I certainly wish we could keep him a bit longer, but Dr. Jordan will leave us on excellent terms,” Leonard wrote in an email message to CCS community members last week. “Dr. Jordan is an outstanding individual who has given much to Chatham County Schools. It has been our privilege and pleasure to work with him and watch our district benefit from his leadership.”

Leonard added that he knew Jordan “will remain fully engaged until his last official day.”

In his new role, Jordan will oversee N.C. Schools for the Deaf in Morganton and Wilson, the Lab Schools, the Governor Morehead School for the Blind, the Innovative School District and alternative schools, among others. He hopes to bring with him “a laser sharp focus on improving outcomes for students,” he said, something he believes he was able to cultivate during his time at Chatham County Schools.

“As much as we did not reach all the goals that I would have hoped for us to reach, we certainly reached a number of them — as I tell leaders all the time, a good leader always has work in progress,” Jordan said. “I absolutely believe that I am leaving the district well positioned to reach higher heights and I believe that we have done outstanding work together. But there will absolutely be work that remains.”

His sentimentality in leaving is evident just in the way he continues to include himself in the district’s future goals — using the “we” pronoun repeatedly without any note of distancing on his part.

“There are still opportunities for improvement. We want to continue zeroing in on how best to close the achievement gaps, we want to continue to identify strategies for recruiting and retaining diverse members of our employment team,” he said. “There is so much work to be done, but the good news is that we’re not at ground zero in that work.”

In his new role, Jordan said he looks forward to the potential to have a statewide impact — visiting and getting to work with schools all across the state. His future travels will be a far cry from his spontaneous drives across Chatham to visit the district’s schools, but he’s glad he’ll still be working with students. (Luckily, he said his new job won’t include early morning inclement weather checks for snow — a part of his current job he said he will definitely not miss.)

Still, as excited as he is for the opportunity, leaving Chatham is definitely bittersweet.

“I will miss most the people of Chatham County, the students, the employees in the community — I have been in awe of their overwhelming commitment to trying to do what’s right for our kids,” Jordan said. “In any future positions that I hold, I hope that I will always be able to see what I’ve seen in Chatham County, because now the bar has been set in my perspective.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.