A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools veteran, the leader of a tumultuous urban district in Tennessee and the current national superintendent of the year will visit Charlotte schools on Tuesday as they vie to be the next CMS superintendent.
On Monday, the CMS board announced three finalists for the job: Heath Morrison, superintendent of the school district in Reno, Nev.; Kriner Cash, superintendent of Memphis City Schools; and Ann Clark, chief academic officer of CMS. They’ll tour schools Tuesday, meet the public Wednesday and face a final school board interview on Thursday.
All bring a strong history in educational leadership, along with potential challenges.
Cash has been superintendent of the Memphis schools, a 113,000-student system, since 2008. Previously, he was an administrator with the Miami-Dade County Schools. His current district, where most students are black and poor, is going through a forced merger with the surrounding Shelby County district, which serves more affluent suburban students. Cash is seeking the top job in the merged district.
Low academic performance in Memphis was a driving force behind the merger. But Cash has been credited with raising graduation rates, academic achievement and standardized test scores. He also has pushed more money into the classroom despite less funding, through a focus on business efficiency.
But one of his signature accomplishments, a new teacher evaluation system that draws from a model piloted in Washington D.C., has been controversial. And one of his deputies recently resigned after a sexual harassment allegation that stemmed from a party at Cash’s home.
CMS Board Chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart said Monday that Cash’s leadership in merging the districts could prove relevant in CMS, where the needs of urban and suburban schools and communities sometimes clash.
“That says you have to be someone who can reach out across a number of constituencies,” she said. “You have to have the ability to build trust.”
Heath Morrison, superintendent of the Washoe (Nevada) County Schools, was recently named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. He has headed the 64,000-student system in Nevada since 2009, but his roots are in the Mid-Atlantic area. Morrison went to college in Virginia and Maryland and was an administrator in the Montgomery County, Md., school district before taking the Nevada job.
Morrison has been superintendent of Washoe County Schools, an area including Reno, Nev., since 2009. Since assuming the top spot, he’s been credited with developing a new strategic plan and focus on graduation that raised the district’s high school graduation rate from 56 percent three years ago to 70 percent last year.
He’s dealt with budget cuts, as a product of the state’s tough economic situation and cuts from the state. There’s a $40 million deficit projected for the coming year and an $80 million deficit projected to follow that.
To cope, Morrison has proposed cutting more than 150 teacher positions, mostly through attrition. Class sizes will also be raised to between 30 and 32 students from fourth grade through high school. New textbooks are being delayed and full-day kindergarten’s implementation is being slowed. The district’s employees, except teachers, also took a uniform 2.5 percent pay cut this year to save money.
The Reno district is less than half the size of CMS, but Ellis-Stewart noted that Montgomery County is a large district. She cited Morrison’s work with a largely Latino student body to boost a culture of graduating.
Clark has worked for CMS since 1983, starting as a teacher and working her way up to chief academic officer, reporting only to the superintendent. She has played a leading role in recruiting and training principals, preparing educators for the coming national “common core” curriculum and creating the public-private Project LIFT partnership to pump millions into struggling schools.
She’s respected by many who have worked with her and is described as fiercely loyal to CMS — potential pluses in a district that’s trying to build employee morale and a community where some are wary of leaders making a name and moving on. Ellis-Stewart said the board has made it clear to the search firm that members want “someone willing to make a long-term commitment — hopefully greater than five years.”
But being an insider can also be a drawback, as interim Superintendent Frances Haithcock learned in 2006, when the board hired Peter Gorman from Tustin, Calif. Board members said at the time that public discontent with CMS made it near-impossible to promote from within. Recently, CMS has faced controversy over testing, teacher performance pay and faulty data. The district took the prestigious 2011 Broad Prize for Urban Education, but officials acknowledge test scores and graduation rates haven’t improved fast enough.
All three finalists have ties to the controversial Broad Foundation: Clark and Morrison are graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy, and Cash’s district has received Broad-funded governance training. Philanthropist Eli Broad has pumped millions into urban education reform. Some credit the foundation with improving leadership and education, while others say he’s using his money to push a business-oriented approach that shortchanges teachers.
In their current jobs, Cash earns $276,500 a year, while Morrison makes $238,000 and Clark earns $169,000.
The school board has planned a number of meetings for the finalists this week. Those include four public meetings Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Finalists then will be interviewed by the school board Thursday afternoon. The board says it plans to name a new superintendent in early May.
Ellis-Stewart said public input will be a big factor in choosing a superintendent, and she reminded the public that questions for the finalists or comments can be sent to CMS via Twitter (#CMSSuptSearch) or on Facebook (Facebook.com/CharlotteMecklenburgSchools).
Hugh Hattabaugh currently is serving as interim superintendent of CMS but plans to leave that position in July. He replaced Peter Gorman, who left as superintendent last July for a vice-president’s position in a private education-related company.
Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.