John Wall Jr., hired from a Raleigh magnet school to bring fresh eyes to West Charlotte Highs longtime struggles, will become Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools second-highest-paid principal at $158,500 for his first year.
His base pay of $135,000 is bolstered by a 10 percent hike from CMS for taking on a challenging school and a $10,000 signing bonus provided by the private donors of Project LIFT.
LIFT, for Leadership and Investment for Transformation, has raised $55 million for a five-year quest to boost West Charlottes graduation rate and improve performance at eight schools that feed into it.
Wall, 47, has only one years experience leading a high school, and none at a high-poverty neighborhood school like West Charlotte. But he has impressed his longtime employers in Wake County and his new ones in CMS.
We just lost a great principal to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, where he will make more as a principal than any of our chiefs make here, said Wake Superintendent Tony Tata. As I said earlier this year to the State Board of Education, we need to invest in our people and we need to review compensation levels for all employees.
Since April 2011, Wall has been principal of Southeast Raleigh High, a year-round magnet school specializing in science and technology. For 13 years before that, he was principal of two magnet middle schools in Wake.
Wall says he hopes to tap West Charlottes historic pride, its active alumni base and the philanthropic and corporate support that Project LIFT has rallied.
The first thing we have to do is build that communitys spirit, Wall said this week. As educators, were in the hope business. Were in the tomorrow business.
But he quickly notes that it will take more than hope to reach the schools goals. West Charlotte had a 54 percent on-time graduation rate in 2011; LIFT strives to hit 90 percent by 2017.
One of his first priorities will be identifying the best teachers at West Charlotte and bringing in new people to boost the faculty. In any institution, new people are necessary to bring new blood to life, he said.
That meshes with efforts launched by Project LIFT. Denise Watts, the CMS administrator who oversees the nine LIFT schools, worked with his predecessor, Shelton Jefferies, to identify high- and low-performing employees at the end of last year. Twenty-five employees got retention bonuses ranging from $2,000 to $13,500, paid with private money. Twenty-one teachers were ordered to transfer to non-LIFT schools.
West Charlotte also has been added to the CMS strategic staffing program launched by former Superintendent Peter Gorman, which gives proven principals a 10 percent raise and allows them to bring in a team of administrators and teachers to turn around weak schools.
Wall said another top focus will be a credit recovery program to help students who have fallen behind pass the classes they need to graduate.
On Tuesday, the school board approved a contract for Project LIFT to lease a building from the Grace & Mercy Cathedral Ministry for a new LIFT Institute, a credit-recovery program for about 100 male students from West Charlotte. The building is about five miles from the school, off West Boulevard.
Hooked on education
Wall grew up in Queens, N.Y., and was a first-generation college student. He got a degree in political science from N.C. Central University in 1987, then returned to New York City with plans to attend law school.
However, he signed up for a stint as a middle school teacher in the South Bronx, part of an effort to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill high-poverty schools by offering temporary licenses. I fell in love with the kids, he said.
Wake County hired him as a teacher in 1990 and he got his teaching certification in 1991. He earned a masters degree in educational administration from N.C. State University in 1995 and became a middle school principal three years later.
Wall became principal of Southeast Raleigh High in April 2011. CMS hired him Tuesday, opening day for 2012-13 on Southeasts year-round calendar. He is married to an assistant principal in Wake County, who also is applying in CMS.
Its the second time CMS has plucked a West Charlotte principal from Southeast Raleigh High. John Modest made that move in 2005, staying four years before leaving for Guilford County. During his tenure, West Charlotte made significant gains on test scores but had trouble boosting the graduation rate. In 2007, the school reported an 81 percent graduation rate, but after questions from the Observer and state officials, CMS officials said that was based on erroneous reporting.
When he left, Modest said he knew he was coming to a difficult situation, but said he underestimated the challenges of West Charlottes overwhelming poverty and the flight of white and middle-class families.
Jefferies, who led West Charlotte for the past three years before taking an administrative job in Union County, was making $122,000 when he left the same as Wall made at Southeast Raleigh and an above-average salary for a CMS high school principal.
Jefferies also earned a $4,800 bonus in the most recent year reported.
Walls new salary of $148,500 is the second-highest for a CMS principal, with the one-time $10,000 signing bonus boosting his first-year compensation.
Superintendent Heath Morrison didnt mention pay when the school board approved Walls appointment, but said Wall made a strong impression on everyone who interviewed him.
Were going to see amazing things at West Charlotte, Morrison said.
Watts wasnt at the board meeting and couldnt be reached for comment Wednesday or Thursday.
CMS highest-paid principal is South Mecks Maureen Furr, who made $155,677 last year and will go to $160,347 with the 3 percent raises just kicking in for 2012-13. South Meck had almost 2,400 students last year, compared with just more than 1,700 at West Charlotte.
Tom Spivey will make $146,349 this year for leading Myers Park High, the states largest school with almost 2,800 students.
On Tuesday night, the board also approved a new principal for Hopewell High, a Huntersville school about the same size as West Charlotte. Michael Jones, a central-office administrator who has been an assistant or interim principal at Hopewell, Vance and Garinger high schools, will make $89,211 a year.
Thomas Goldsmith of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.