Speakers air views for, against new leadership in CMS

Parents speak on superintendent search process

parents speak out in opposition of extending Superintendent Ann Clark's contract during Tuesday night's school board meeting.
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parents speak out in opposition of extending Superintendent Ann Clark's contract during Tuesday night's school board meeting.

Superintendent Ann Clark was never named during public comments at Tuesday’s school board meeting, but she was the subject of intense views about whether Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools needs a shakeup or stability.

Colette Forrest, a CMS parent who has led an email campaign against extending Clark’s contract past this summer, called for a new leader to unify the community and eliminate school disparities. More than a dozen people held up signs and stood to support her, including state Sen. Joyce Waddell, a former CMS board member, and Kojo Nantambu, former president of the Mecklenburg NAACP branch.

“Make no mistake about it: This is a fight for survival,” Forrest said. “We must close this chapter and start anew.”

Richard “Stick” Williams, a Duke Energy executive who has been vocal about his support for keeping Clark longer, said CMS has launched a number of promising efforts to help students in struggling high-poverty schools, including the donor-funded Project LIFT that he co-chairs.

“Just the thought of starting another search … scares the living daylights out of me,” Williams said. “Right now I think stability is critical for this district.”

Clark, a 32-year veteran of CMS, was deputy superintendent when Heath Morrison resigned under pressure last November. In January the board gave her a contract as superintendent through summer 2016, when she said she wanted to retire.

In recent months, some board members and community leaders have talked about extending her contract. Clark has left that option open, saying recently that any questions about a contract extension should be directed to school board members.

Meanwhile, the board has held no public discussion about a search for a long-term leader since July. It wasn’t on Tuesday’s agenda, and board Chairperson Mary McCray cautioned speakers against discussing individuals during their comments. In additional to her usual scripted reading of the rules, she elaborated: She would allow no “talking about titles and pointing or making any references.”

In the last three weeks, emails have circulated saying that private talks about extending Clark’s contract are shutting out the African-American community that makes up the largest portion of the CMS student body. Forrest’s emails faulted Clark for being involved in school closings in 2010, when Clark was chief academic officer, and for lacking a doctoral degree and history leading a district.

Three other speakers called for new leadership, though one offered a twist: “Maybe it hasn’t been the superintendent that has failed us. Maybe it was the board,” said Antawuan Schofield.

Waddell Brunson, a pastor and CMS parent, said every day that goes by without a clear search plan harms the district. “I challenge you to select an independent body to perform the search and put all candidates, even those who currently serve, through the process.”

Clark, who sits at the dais with the board, watched all speakers intently.

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

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