Sarah Stevenson, who has been watching superintendents move through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools since the 1960s, said Tuesday she’s feeling good about the newest one.
“He has a nice smile,” Stevenson, a 91-year-old desegregation pioneer and former school board member, said after meeting Clayton Wilcox Tuesday morning.
Last month the school board announced that it would hire Wilcox, who leads the Washington County school system in western Maryland. Tuesday the board voted 7-0, with Tom Tate and Ericka Ellis-Stewart absent, to make it official.
The four-year contract, which starts July 1, provides a $280,000 salary with the opportunity for a performance bonus up to 10 percent, which would bring his total pay as high as $308,000. He will also get $10,800 a year in car allowance, $1,500 a year for life insurance and $15,000 in moving expenses this year.
This week Wilcox, who has been known in the Charlotte area mainly through news coverage and social media videos, started making face-to-face contact with community leaders such as Stevenson. His schedule for Monday and Tuesday included the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, which Stevenson founded; Charlotte Chamber’s executive committee; the Charlotte Rotary Club and a gathering with elected officials.
Let’s watch him and let’s support him and see what happens.
Sarah Stevenson, founder of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum
Wilcox also held his first Charlotte news conference Tuesday morning. The 61-year-old Wilcox cast himself as someone who comes from working-class roots and has learned enough from his three previous superintendent roles to be an active listener and “not be quite so aggressive in ‘I have a solution’ ” as he was in his younger days.
“I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m conscious of that,” he told reporters.
He emphasized that while his current district is much smaller and less diverse than CMS, he has also been superintendent in East Baton Rouge, a majority black, high-poverty school system in Louisiana with about 54,000 students and in Pinellas County, Fla., a 115,000-student district in Tampa Bay.
Before his news conference, CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy warned reporters that Wilcox wouldn’t be ready to talk in depth about local issues and urged them to stick to questions about “his arrival and what he’s looking forward to.”
But Wilcox responded bluntly to one reporter’s question about whether he has any experience with a student assignment plan like the one CMS has embarked on, which is trying to break up racial and economic isolation, and whether he values that effort.
“I have no experience doing that, in terms of having a stated agenda of moving kids based on their wealth,” he said. “But I can tell you that I absolutely believe fundamentally that it’s important for young people to go to school with people who are not like them. … We live in a world that’s very diverse, so I think our schools need to reflect the environment our kids will need to be successful.”
At the Breakfast Forum, a weekly gathering that originated in west Charlotte and often focuses on issues of interest to the black community, board Chair Mary McCray said she brought Wilcox to “dispel some of these myths and other things that are going around about him.” He didn’t take questions – and forum organizers had been instructed not to announce his appearance to the public – but promised Stevenson he’d be back later with more time to talk.
Wilcox spent about seven minutes outlining his biography and his reasons for coming to Charlotte. He then settled in and stayed beyond his scheduled time, listening to a presentation on the Charlotte Post Foundation’s Black Lives Matter Charlotte program, which included a look at race-based disparities in CMS.
Afterward, Stevenson said she liked that Wilcox said he’s willing to ignore adults if he doesn’t think they’re advocating for the best interest of students.
“Let’s watch him and let’s support him and see what happens,” she said.
Just before the board’s vote, Vice Chair Elyse Dashew said the extensive community input about the kind of leader CMS needs helped shape the hire. Out of 52 applicants, she said, “Dr. Clayton Wilcox is the one who emerged as the best match for our community’s wish list.”
Wilcox said after the vote that he is “honored and humbled” to be chosen. “I believe in the power of great public schools to change not only the destiny of children and families, but of entire communities,” he said.