By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
It was back to school for Hatteras Island students and their parents this week, and as they basked in the excitement that a new school year brings—new teachers, new books, new classrooms, new friends, etc.—many islanders may have overlooked a small, but very important, change in the district’s leadership: the appointment of Danny Couch as Hatteras Island’s representative on the Board of Education.
Couch is a historian, storyteller, realtor, and a true native son. When he isn’t working as a real estate agent for Hatteras Realty, Inc., he’s running Hatteras Tours, a business he started that offers guided history- and local lore-themed tours of the island.
He is also an active member of the island community. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras, and, over the years, has volunteered his time and expertise—and his tour bus—in support of a number of local initiatives and organizations, including the local elementary and secondary schools.
But his connections to the island’s schools run much deeper than that.
“I am a product of this school system,” he said proudly. “From Head Start through 12th grade.”
And now, his three children are part of that tradition, too. His daughter Rae, 13, attends the secondary school, and his sons, Gideon, 8, and Griffin, 6, both attend the elementary school, where his wife, Sherry, serves as the principal.
In fact, many parents and students on Hatteras Island may know him best as “Rae and Gideon and Griffin’s Dad,” or simply as “Mrs. Couch’s husband.”
So, this past July, when the current District 4 representative, Anthony Fletcher, resigned his position, Couch seemed to be a natural replacement.
After the vacancy was announced, he and three other island residents—Dave Dixon, Mary Ellon Ballance, and Dave Conley (who ran against Fletcher 2012 election)—threw their hats in the ring.
For the selection process, the Board of Education created a three-member committee—Fletcher, Bea Basnight, and chairman Ben Sproul—which was tasked with interviewing the candidates, recommending one of them for appointment, and then relaying that suggestion to the rest of the board members.
The interviews took place on July 30 at the administrative office in Nags Head, and when they were over, the committee had decided—unanimously—to recommend Couch. They held the final vote the following evening, and, once again, the board’s decision was unanimous.
Couch was officially sworn in the following Tuesday, Aug. 6.
His previous experience sitting on various boards and committees gave Couch something of an edge. And so did the connections he has been able to form through business ventures and community service efforts.
But ultimately, the decision was about what’s best for the students and employees that comprise Dare County Schools.
“He has three kids and a wife in this school system,” Fletcher said. “He has quite a bit of stake in these schools and in doing what’s best for [them],” he explained.
Of course, what Fletcher sees as strength, some community members see as a potential conflict of interest.
Couch acknowledged the concern about his wife’s position, but firmly denied its legitimacy.
“Our responsibility is to empower and support the students and education professionals [in Dare County],” he said, noting the fact that no individual member can act alone, without the consent of the board.
“You cannot make any unilateral decisions,” he said. “It’s a seven-person board. There’s not much of a way to use a school board position for personal or political gain.”
It was a sentiment that Fletcher reasserted, adding that, if a true conflict of interest did crop up somewhere down the line, Couch could simply recuse himself, and the board would handle the matter without him.
In the end, Fletcher said, “the assets that Danny brings far outweigh any potential conflicts of interest.”
As for Couch, he has been very clear on what he hopes to get out of this new position.
“Everyone wants to make a difference,” he said. “And the schools are where you should help out. If you can’t get satisfaction out of helping children, then you’re not living well.
“I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a platform. I’m not interested in using this as a stepping stone…We all have the same goal: the welfare of our students and our community,” he said.
Couch will serve out the rest of Fletcher’s term, which ends on June 30, 2016. In the spring of 2016, he will have to decide if he wants to run to keep the seat.