WILMINGTON — Wake County interim Superintendent Donna Hargens could trade one fight over neighborhood schools for another if she's chosen to lead New Hanover County's schools.
Hargens, one of three finalists to become superintendent in New Hanover, was pressed at a public forum Monday in Wilmington for her views on whether neighborhood schools will lead to resegregation.
"That's a complex issue," Hargens said of the potential lack of diversity in neighborhood schools. "That's a governance issue. That's a public values issue that our board of education and your board of education is dealing with. A superintendent implements."
New Hanover began three years ago to move toward neighborhood schools, something the school board majority in Wake County is attempting to implement.
Hargens' predecessor in Wake, Del Burns, resigned because of his disagreement with that board majority's recent elimination of the socioeconomic diversity policy for drawing school attendance zones.
Hargens noted that education consultant Michael Alves will speak today with community leaders and a Wake school board committee on how to provide parental choice in school assignments while still trying to maintain diversity.
Edward Higgins, chairman of the New Hanover school board, praised Hargens. She met privately Monday with the school board and with more than 50 people in a public forum.
The New Hanover school board will meet Wednesday morning to discuss whom to hire.
"We know she's an excellent administrator," Higgins said. "She sees the position of superintendent is to carry out the will of the school board. Right now that will of the board is neighborhood schools."
Local activists have charged that the 24,000-student New Hanover school system, which includes Wilmington, is resegregating by going toward neighborhood schools. Higgins said people who don't believe in neighborhood schools are assuming falsely that minority students can't learn.
Activists in Wake staged a rally last week that resulted in the arrests of 19 people at the school board meeting. Supporters of neighborhood schools say it will provide greater family stability and parental choice in Wake.
Hargens, who is also Wake's chief academic officer, was chosen by the board in March to replace Burns.
School board members have said they'd consider Hargens if she applied for the job. Hargens has said that she wouldn't decide to apply until the school board had finished drawing up a profile of what it wants in the superintendent.
Last week, the school board waived the requirement that the next superintendent be an educator. Board members said they'd like Hargens to stay on as chief academic officer if she doesn't become the permanent superintendent.
Hargens said Monday that her goal has always been to become a superintendent. She repeatedly praised New Hanover's schools at Monday's forum.
"You are a good system, and you could say a great school system," Hargens said. "You are poised to take the school system to the next level."
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