State grants authority for Earnest Winston to serve as CMS’ superintendent

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction said Thursday that the state has authorized Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools acting Superintendent Earnest Winston to work in the role.

The move came one day before the CMS school board is scheduled to discuss a “personnel contract” during a special meeting Friday morning.

Winston took over as acting superintendent two weeks ago when the board abruptly suspended Clayton Wilcox, who had been in the job for only two years. Board members agreed to a separation agreement with Wilcox that called for him to resign effective Friday.

Wilcox received no severance package or additional payout, according to the separation agreement.

North Carolina typically requires top district administrators to have experience as a school principal and an advanced degree in school administration.

The State Board of Education authorized allowing Winston to serve as superintendent even though he doesn’t meet those typical qualifications, said Todd Silberman, a spokesman for the Department of Instruction. WFAE first reported the state approval for Winston to serve as superintendent.

Winston met criteria from another path that allows someone to become a superintendent if they have “at least a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university and have five years leadership or managerial experience considered relevant by the employing local board of education.”

Winston, who has a bachelor’s degree, worked as a reporter for the Observer before switching to teaching in 2004. He moved into administration two years later.

Since 2017, Winston has worked as the district’s first ombudsman. In that role, Winston is supposed to serve as a bridge between the school district and the community, parents, staff and students at large.


An earlier version of this story inaccurately described the State Board of Education action. The state board did not take a vote, but authorized Winston because he met qualifications for the job spelled out in state policy.
Fred Clasen-Kelly covers government accountability for The Charlotte Observer, with a focus on social justice. He has worked in Charlotte more than a decade reporting on affordable housing, criminal justice and other issues. He previously worked at the Indianapolis Star.