!Second in a series"
You could call them the Odd Couple of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Mary McCray is a Democrat with a laid-back style, bringing the teacher view to the school board. Tim Morgan, a hard-charging Republican, has his roots in the business community.
Last year they were at odds over leadership of the district. Now, as the newly elected chairwoman and vice chairman, they hope their ability to bridge personal differences will help them do the same for an often-divided community. I do believe opposites work well together, said McCray.
United leadership could prove essential as CMS enters 2013. Consider the tasks: Craft a long-term strategy for the district. Bolster public trust and employee morale. Persuade voters to approve school bonds after a six-year hiatus. Launch difficult discussions about race and education. We have different constituencies and different ways of looking at issues, Morgan said. We help each other understand different perspectives.
In November 2011, McCray, Morgan and Ericka Ellis-Stewart won at-large seats on the board. Shortly afterward, Ellis-Stewart and McCray, both Democrats and first-time officeholders, were chosen chair and vice chair.
The vote was unanimous, but behind-the-scene rifts quickly flared. When it came time to fill the District 6 seat Morgan had held for two years, representing the heavily Republican south suburbs, the board's Democratic majority ignored Morgan's recommendation and appointed a Democrat.
Morgan and board member Rhonda Lennon, a fellow suburban Republican, said afterward the new majority had launched an era of partisan strife and suburban alienation.
So what happened? The board re-immersed itself in crafting a budget and choosing a superintendent, hiring Heath Morrison in a united vote last spring.
And Ellis-Stewart tapped McCray and Morgan to co-chair a new committee on working with other government bodies, including the Republican-dominated state legislature and the Democrat-dominated county commission.
The duo clicked, personally and professionally.
McCray, a longtime teacher and retired president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, respected Morgan's business knowledge and contacts. Morgan, former director of a real estate and construction association, valued McCray's insights into the classroom. And they have common ground: Both live in District 6, where McCray taught in schools that Morgan's children attended.
McCray says it wasn't easy, but board members have surmounted partisan and personal divides. Everybody realized, Oh, Mary's not an ogre just because she's a Democrat,'. she said with a laugh.
At the Dec. 11 meeting, McCray and Morgan were elected unanimously.
We come into it not as a Democrat and a Republican, McCray says, but as two people committed to making sure every child has an opportunity for a great education.