Editorials

Might Wilcox ruffle feathers here?

The Observer editorial board

Clayton Wilcox will begin as CMS superintendent on July 1.
Clayton Wilcox will begin as CMS superintendent on July 1.

It’s hard to know precisely what Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is getting in new Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. The school board didn’t make him available during its search. He wasn’t in Charlotte Tuesday when his hiring was announced. And when asked when he’ll be in Charlotte to meet the community, board vice chair Elyse Dashew said “in the coming weeks. We don’t have that date tied down exactly yet.”

They should tie it down. We and the community would like to know more about him.

First and foremost: Wilcox seems to have ruffled feathers multiple times as a school superintendent. Does that mean he’s a troublemaker, or that feathers needed ruffling? We would have thought this board would have been looking for a yes-man but it doesn’t appear that’s what it is getting in Wilcox. Three contract extensions he won each split his school boards 4-3.

He has followed an odd career path. After working his way up to be superintendent of sizable Pinellas County Schools in and around St. Petersburg, Fla., he left with three years left on his contract to take a high-paying job with Scholastic Inc., saying he had found his passion. Three years later, he jumped back into the superintendents’ pool, this time at the far smaller 22,000-student Washington County Schools in Hagerstown, Md.

Now he makes the leap to CMS, which is more than six times as large and infinitely more diverse. It’s not clear how he would wrestle with the defining question of these times at CMS: How to reverse the dramatic resegregation of the past 15 years without alienating middle- to higher-income families. The school board is embarking on the second phase of its plan for addressing that, and Dashew said multiple times Tuesday those decisions will rest with the board, not Wilcox.

The superintendent’s leadership is crucial, however, particularly with a tentative school board like this one, and Wilcox has shown an independent streak. It will be interesting to see if a power struggle develops at some point between him and the board.

His selection as CMS superintendent was apparently not unanimous. Asked if it was, Dashew said, “We deliberated very carefully. We took this very seriously and this board works very well together and we came to consensus.”

Those close to Wilcox’s tenure in Hagerstown say he is talented and widely admired but has also developed detractors, particularly over his lack of commitment to boosting teacher pay.

In Pinellas County, school board members discovered 16 months after Wilcox left that he had committed $1.5 million in school money to a local education foundation without the board’s knowledge. And critics said he was cozy with Scholastic for years before it hired him, even as the school system paid millions for Scholastic products.

Sources familiar with the search have told the editorial board that CMS is not the premiere draw it once was for superintendent candidates. The district’s challenges, the school board’s shortcomings and the episode with former Superintendent Heath Morrison will do that. We hope the school board nabbed a star despite that. More than 147,000 children are depending on it.

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