Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark walks back quote about ‘culture of fear’ at CMS

Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark walked back her statement to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools attorneys that there was a “culture of fear” under Heath Morrison in a radio interview Monday.

In the interview with WFAE broadcast on Monday, Clark was asked about her statement given to CMS general counsel George Battle III, which became part of a report that ultimately led to Morrison’s departure as superintendent.

Clark is quoted as saying there was a culture of fear as part of a section of the report describing Morrison’s bullying of staff as pervasive.

“I certainly did talk about a culture of fear in the organization, but I think that’s something that has been a concern over several superintendents,” Clark said in the interview with WFAE’s Mike Collins, referencing principal moves over the past eight years.

“I was talking about this notion of people being unsettled, concerned about their jobs and that kind of thing. In my time in the central office, I know that is something that we would hear.”

Battle said Monday that he disagreed with the notion that the discussion was more general.

“Any issues or allegations discussed with me were things brought to my attention. I relayed the facts,” Battle said. “I did not embellish, I did not fabricate, I did not add. Neither did the other attorneys working with me on this matter. ... Any assertion to the contrary is a lie.”

Clark’s comments in the interview seem at odds with her quotes in the report. It also said Clark told attorneys that Morrison is “very hard” on his staff and “lacks decorum.” She said, according to the report, that Morrison has a temper, is “unpredictable,” lacks “human relations skills” and drove employees away because they feared losing their jobs.

Clark did not touch on any of those remarks in the interview. Her segment was prerecorded and she did not participate on the panel discussion later in the program.

Clark told the Observer on Monday evening that she did not suggest on WFAE that her comments in the report were taken out of context. She said she did indicate there was a culture of fear in the central office, but that most of her comments referred to the speaking tour Morrison conducted when he came to CMS in 2012.

“When asked recently about our current culture state, I did indicate there was a culture of fear that existed in the district office,” she told the Observer.

The culture of fear Morrison heard about then stemmed from principal turnover, layoffs at CMS after the financial crisis and performance evaluations, Clark said.

In a follow-up email to the Observer, “What I can tell you is that a culture of fear existed in the district office for the last two years separate and distinct from previous years.”

‘Culture of care’

Clark said in the WFAE interview that CMS has launched a “culture of care” campaign among the district’s 18,000 employees to emphasize having pride in being a CMS employee and discussing how to treat people well and to appreciate others’ work.

Collins also asked Clark about her quote in the report saying Morrison had intimidating “non-verbals.” She said she was referring to some employees being concerned about not feeling safe in speaking up, whether it is in individual schools or at CMS headquarters.

Clark also said she wasn’t privy to the full details of the investigation.

“I had a very strong personal relationship with the superintendent. We were a very complementary team,” she said. “We certainly had different styles and approaches, but that made us a great team.”

CMS is continuing to deal with Morrison’s controversial departure at the beginning of November. Morrison initially said he was resigning to take care of his ailing mother. The Observer reported soon after that his decision was made days after school board members were presented a report detailing allegations that Morrison bullied staff and misled the board on the costs of a construction project at UNC Charlotte.

Clark is fulfilling the superintendent’s duties under her role as deputy. She has not been named interim superintendent. The school board has not indicated how and when it will search for a permanent leader for the district.

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