CMS board gathers advice on superintendent search

Superintendent Ann Clark
Superintendent Ann Clark

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board took its first steps Wednesday toward searching for a new superintendent, a process that remains in the shadow of the sudden departure of its last leader.

Board members spent much of a special meeting called to address the search asking the advice of Trent Merchant, a former school board member and executive search professional. CMS said Merchant volunteered his time.

They did not emerge with a formal process for moving forward. The board has previously said it will decide on a process by the end of April before launching the search in earnest in May. A new superintendent is expected to be selected by April 2016.

Among Merchant’s advice: Gather public input early in the process about what they want rather than ask people to evaluate finalists; to focus on vision rather than specific goals for a new superintendent; and only engage a search firm that spends a good deal of time asking the board what it’s looking for.

And since an election for at-large school board members will be held before the new superintendent is selected, Merchant recommended that they lay out up front what the selection process will be.

The meeting came four months after former Superintendent Heath Morrison suddenly resigned after a secret investigation into claims he bullied staff members and misled the school board about a project at UNC Charlotte.

Ann Clark led the district as deputy superintendent from November until late January, when the board voted to name her superintendent until 2016. Clark said she did not want to be considered for the position long term.

That declaration came only weeks after saying she was open to being the permanent superintendent. School board Chairwoman Mary McCray and Vice Chairman Tim Morgan said the board had always favored a national search for a superintendent.

The school board opened Wednesday’s meeting discussing “lessons learned” from Morrison’s departure, though McCray said they would not relive the past.

Board member Eric Davis said he wants the board to discuss policies for how superintendents and other employees should be investigated. He said the board should have brought concerns to Morrison before deciding they had lost confidence in him.

Member Paul Bailey said he would like the board to receive information as a group in the future. General Counsel George Battle III met with board members individually as he investigated Morrison. Other board members, however, said they favored getting information by themselves so they’d have time to process it.

Board member Ericka Ellis-Stewart said that in the future, it’s OK to disagree but not to be disagreeable. She also said the board should figure out how to better safeguard private information.

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Twitter: @andrew_dunn