Clayton Wilcox, superintendent from Maryland, chosen to lead CMS

Clayton Wilcox named CMS superintendent

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education announced that Dr. Clayton Wilcox will become the next superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools effective July 1, 2017. Dr. Wilcox comes from Washington County Public Schools in Hagerstown, Mary
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The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education announced that Dr. Clayton Wilcox will become the next superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools effective July 1, 2017. Dr. Wilcox comes from Washington County Public Schools in Hagerstown, Mary

Clayton Wilcox, a veteran superintendent who currently leads a small school district in northern Maryland, was named the next superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on Tuesday.

An Iowa native who started his teaching career there, Wilcox has spent the last 5  1/2 years as superintendent of Washington County Public Schools, a district of 22,000 students headquartered in Hagerstown, Md. He has also been superintendent in Pinellas County, Fla., and East Baton Rouge, La., and was a senior vice president with Scholastic, an educational publishing company.

Wilcox did not attend the 10-minute news conference in which CMS board Chair Mary McCray and Vice Chair Elyse Dashew announced the appointment. They said his first visit to Charlotte has not been scheduled, but he will make visits before starting work July 1.

In an interview with the Observer, Wilcox said he and his wife expect to start looking for a home over the holidays. He said he plans to visit monthly starting in January, and weekly after he leaves his current job in mid-March. His family has visited Charlotte in the past and his two adult children have talked about moving here, he said: “There’s kind of this growing family synergy about coming to Charlotte.”

As superintendent, Wilcox said, he’ll be focused on engaging and educating all students and using technology to open doors to learning.

“I’m relentless,” he said. “I get up in the morning thinking about how to serve kids and I go to bed thinking about it.”

As superintendent of CMS, Wilcox will take the helm of the nation’s 18th largest school district, with more than 147,000 students, a work force that tops 18,000 and a $1.4 billion annual operating budget. He’ll step in as the district launches a new diversity-driven magnet lottery, gears up a review of neighborhood school boundaries and prepares for a 2017 school bond campaign.

His board in Washington County awarded him a new four-year contract in a 4-3 vote in June. According to Herald-Mail Media, he asked for the extension as a signal that the district is moving in the right direction. He did not seek a hike in his compensation, which is $223,283 a year, the article said.

The CMS board has agreed on a salary of $280,000 a year, General Counsel George Battle III said.

Wilcox said Tuesday the split vote on his contract was mainly because some members wanted to wait until after a school board election. “I don’t think it was a referendum on Clayton,” he said.

When Wilcox left Pinellas County for the Scholastic job in 2008, the Tampa Bay Times described him as “the candid and often controversial superintendent who pushed the Pinellas County school system into a new era.” The article noted that he left to take the higher-paying private-sector job as Pinellas County was in the midst of a budget crisis and a student assignment transformation, with three years left on his contract.

His selection concludes a tumultuous stretch for CMS that began with Superintendent Heath Morrison’s forced resignation in November 2014. The board promoted Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark and said it would do a search in 2015, then went silent for months. Early this year, after acknowledging behind-the-scenes talks about specific candidates and deep divides over how to proceed, the board extended Clark’s contract to June 2017 and renewed its search planning.

The school board interviewed two superintendent finalists in private last Monday – ending the district’s long tradition of parading finalists through a series of public meetings. Public interviews are increasingly an artifact of the past, said Allison Schafer of the North Carolina School Boards Association.

The public did have several chances to weigh in on what people want to see in the next leader. The nonprofit MeckEd held 14 public forums in September, and the search firm McPherson & Jacobson held 45 invitation-only small group interviews and three public meetings. The two groups released separate reports in October.

Several of the journalists at Tuesday’s announcement remarked that it seemed terse compared with the fanfare over previous superintendent hires. McCray spoke about the process and listed Wilcox’s experience. She said little about why the board chose him, but did say he is “of Mexican-American descent,” and “we are excited about the perspective he brings.” Hispanic students make up 23 percent of all CMS enrollment and are the fastest-growing demographic.

Wilcox said his grandparents emigrated from Mexico, but he speaks little Spanish and “I really can’t say I’ve had the experience of living in the barrio.”

Dashew described Wilcox as “a very youthful 61,” and said the board hopes for a long relationship.

Wilcox said in interviews they talked about nine or 10 years. “I can’t even imagine the day I stop working,” he said.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms