As the school board continues closed-door talks to decide who should lead Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, each of three finalists has strong support in the community.
The board met for two hours Wednesday, and will continue Thursday morning. Chairman Ericka Ellis-Stewart said the group decided not to visit Memphis and Reno, Nev., the home turf of two finalists.
Randolph Frierson, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, said Wednesday that a poll showing many Memphis teachers give finalist Kriner Cash low grades for his work as superintendent there isnt turning CMS teachers against him. He said an informal poll of his groups membership shows them about evenly divided between Cash and CMS Chief Academic Officer Ann Clark.
Heath Morrison, superintendent of Washoe County Schools in Reno, Nev., also generated enthusiasm among many who heard him speak in Charlotte last week.
Late last week, as Cash returned from public appearances in Charlotte, an advisory panel overseeing the merger of Memphis City Schools and the suburban Shelby County Schools released a random-sample email survey of employees in both districts. Most Memphis employees gave Cash below-average grades; for instance, 26 percent gave him an F, compared with 3.5 percent giving him an A.
I honestly regret the timing, Barbara Prescott, chairman of the Transition Planning Commission, said of the poll her group commissioned. A professional polling company did that survey and a March phone poll asked the public about a range of issues. The public poll also showed below-average ratings for Cash.
Neither survey was intended to block Cash from getting the Charlotte job or becoming superintendent of the merged district, Prescott said. She thinks Cashs ratings were influenced by his push to get low-performing teachers out of struggling schools, his use of Teach For America cadets and the overall tension that surrounds the looming merger.
Frierson said he also thinks the ratings were driven mostly by Memphis politics. Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Education Association, told Frierson and the Observer he doesnt think the surveys ratings, based on about 1,200 responses, reflect the views of the districts 16,000 employees.
School board Vice Chairman Mary McCray, who was head of the CMAE before being elected to the board in November, agrees that Cashs low grades from staff arent necessarily a bad sign. She said Cash explained that hed had to remove a number of ineffective teachers.
He removed teachers from classrooms and put them on special assignments, McCray said Wednesday. When you do stuff like that, it doesnt make you popular. ... I think the way Dr. Cash did it was probably the best way: Just go in and get the bad people out.
Frierson said he believes Cash has a way of bridging and building strong community relationships and a history of listening to teachers. He said some teachers prefer Clark because of her 29-year history with CMS, while others blame her for divisive decisions made by former Superintendent Peter Gorman.
Judy Kidd, a CMS teacher who is president of the Classroom Teachers Association, supports Clark, and informal online polls by the Observer and the nonprofit MeckEd show Clark far ahead of either outsider.
Morrison got good reviews for his energy and his knowledge of CMS issues. Tripp Roakes, a south Charlotte panelist who interviewed all three, posted on Facebook that he sees Morrison as the only answer.
I think he will do well. He will become engaged in (the) community. He will provide excitement and a fresh set of ideas, Roakes wrote.
Ellis-Stewart has said the board will announce a selection by early May.