Do a search, CMS, and include Clark

The Observer editorial board

Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract ends next summer. Does she want an extension?
Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract ends next summer. Does she want an extension? dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

After 32 years serving the children of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Superintendent Ann Clark is now being smeared with the notion that she’s insensitive to the needs of African-Americans.

That’s inaccurate and unfair to a former national principal of the year such as Clark. Those pushing that narrative, including parent Colette Forrest and county commissioner Vilma Leake, are further clouding a discussion that has already been unnecessarily mysterious: whether Clark’s contract should be extended beyond next summer.

Clark is an exemplary educator and effective administrator who has shown uncommon loyalty to CMS since starting as a teacher in 1983. That’s why we hope the school board will launch a national search for the next superintendent, and that Clark will reapply. She would almost certainly emerge at or near the top of the field.

Her dedication to helping all students would help put her there. The Charlotte Post Foundation, affiliated with one of Charlotte’s leading black news outlets, on Saturday honored Clark as its educator of the year. Duke Energy Vice President Richard “Stick” Williams, who is African-American, has worked closely with Clark on Project LIFT, a major effort to help poor, mostly-black schools on Charlotte’s west side. He wrote a letter to the Observer applauding Clark’s work with LIFT and said “we could always count on Ann Clark to be there with us.”

Forrest has called Clark “the architect in closing 10 African-American schools.” But Observer education reporter Ann Doss Helms interviewed several people close to those 2010 closings who said there’s no evidence Clark played a significant role.

The school system faces enduring and difficult questions about how to boost student achievement and what role diversifying schools should play in that. No one should question whether Clark is committed to finding answers.

So why do a search? Why not just extend Clark’s interim contract?

CMS needs to ensure that it finds the best leader in the country. And, importantly, it needs to convince the public that it has done so.

A national search would force Clark and any other candidate to articulate fully their long-term vision for schools and how they intend to make that vision a reality. How do they envision providing a globally competitive education to all children regardless of racial or economic background? What would be their approach to student assignment? How do they see the roles of magnets, and of charters?

It would also give legitimacy to Clark’s appointment should she get it. Were the school board to grant Clark the job without a search, a cloud of questions would linger over her tenure from her detractors who would claim the fix was in.

School board members are unlikely to discuss this topic publicly until after the election, fearful that anything they say could alienate one set of voters or another. Quickly after Nov. 3, however, Clark should indicate whether she wants the job past next June, and board members need to tell the public their plans.