Update: This Jan. 22 meeting was postponed because of winter weather. Board Chair Mary McCray is trying to reschedule it for Friday, Jan. 29.
On Friday the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board stands poised to break a year of public silence on long-term leadership of the district.
The board has scheduled an all-day retreat at Freedom Park to discuss a superintendent search. Ann Clark’s 18-month contract ends July 31, and the board has yet to take steps toward replacing her.
That contract says Clark, at her own request, will not be a candidate. But talk that the board will revise that continues to stir controversy and questions about the role of race.
Clark has indicated she’s willing to stay longer, and some board members say that would be best for the district, especially with a difficult student assignment review in progress. But battle lines drawn during the fall school board campaign re-emerged after the board announced Friday’s meeting.
Jeremy Stephenson, a white candidate who called for extending Clark’s tenure, posted on Facebook that anyone who opposes that plan should “step out and explain why, who could be a better choice, and how, possibly with no search firm even hired yet, they could find better solution than HIRE ANN CLARK RIGHT NOW.”
We have the leader we need for the future and it is Ann Clark!
CMS board member Rhonda Lennon
Board member Rhonda Lennon, who is also white, concurred, posting that “we have the leader we need for the future and it is Ann Clark!” In a later Facebook comment, she added: “I wish all my fellow board members would see the incredible value of having Ann Clark in the helm long term. But for a multitude of reasons they will not. ... I disagree with them and they know how I feel about their opinion.”
John Paul Galles, a white businessman, chimed in by asking whether race and gender play a role in some board members’ reluctance to extend Clark’s contract, adding that “some may need to get over their discomfort with strong white women.”
Why does a fair, reasonably timed process scare so many people?
CMS parent Colette Forrest
Colette Forrest, a black CMS parent who had earlier cast the push to keep Clark in racial terms, sent several mass emails Tuesday, saying Clark has gotten support from Charlotte’s business community that James Pughsley, the district’s only black superintendent, never had.
“A day after Dr. King’s birthday, Charlotte still (has) a long way to go to ensure a quality education for children of color and the proper person at the helm guiding the ship,” Forrest wrote. She called out several board members by name, asking whether the Charlotte community deserves “a transparent, reasonably timed process to place the best person in the position.”
That’s the backdrop as the board convenes at 8:30 a.m. Friday in the Mahlon Adams Pavilion at Freedom Park, 2435 Cumberland Ave. The meeting is open to the public and will be facilitated by consultant Brian Perkins.
Just 24 hours before that, Clark will give an invitation-only “State of Our Schools” speech at West Charlotte High School on Thursday morning. She’s also scheduled to open Friday’s meeting with “district updates.”
After that, the agenda calls for the board to discuss values and board dynamics, CMS’ needs, a search timeline and community engagement. The meeting is scheduled to end at 4 p.m.
CMS has plenty of experience with superintendent searches, with leaders tending to move on after three to five years. That churn is one of the issues board members are concerned about.
Heath Morrison, who was hired as reigning National Superintendent of the Year from Reno, Nev., in 2012, resigned under pressure from the board in November 2014. Board members talked about firing him after General Counsel George Battle III prepared a report saying Morrison had bullied staff and misled the board about costs for a new school.
Clark, who had applied for the top job in 2012 and ended up serving as Morrison’s deputy, stepped in after his departure. She has worked for CMS for 32 years.