RALEIGH — C. Steve Parrott, a former telecommunications executive, will be the next president of the Wake Education Partnership, a group that has found itself in the middle of the county's contentious battle over school diversity.
Parrott, 57, who had been Carolinas executive for Embarq, will replace Ann Denlinger, who is retiring as president of the organization. Parrott will start the job Sept. 20, according to the partnership's announcement Thursday.
Denlinger was formerly Durham schools superintendent, but Parrott comes to the partnership after three decades in the corporate world. He advanced at Sprint, later Embarq, serving in senior leadership positions for 27 years. This year, Parrott formed Summerset Investment Group, a residential real estate investment and property management company focused on the Raleigh and Wilmington markets.
Parrott will lead the education advocacy group at a pivotal time. The Wake County school board and community have been divided about the majority's decision to drop the system's long-standing diversity policy for assigning students.
Gordon Brown, chairman of the partnership's board of directors, said Parrott was hired because he is a good communicator who can bring people together around consensus and understanding.
"I think first and foremost he is a great listener," said Brown, chief financial officer for Alfred Williams & Co.
Parrott's two children graduated from Leesville Road High School in North Raleigh, and he has served on statewide education groups, including the N.C. Business Committee for Education and the North Carolinae-Learning Commission.
"I am excited about working with the business community and education leaders to ensure our students are afforded a quality education," Parrott said in a statement.
Besides being passionate about public education, Brown said, Parrott brings a strong connection to business. "We believe we are the voice of the business community and we need a leader who can talk the business talk," Brown said.
The Wake Education Partnership is a nonprofit that pushes for quality schools in Wake County through business and community involvement. Its sizable board of trustees includes Orage Quarles III, publisher of The News & Observer.
The group has called itself a critical friend of the school system. But it was more supportive of the policies of previous school boards, including passing resolutions in support of the diversity policy. Denlinger stood with supporters of the diversity policy at a news conference the day before October's school board elections.
Since the board majority took office Dec. 1, the partnership has issued a series of reports and analyses that school board majority members and their supporters have interpreted as critical of the changes being implemented. At one point, school board member John Tedesco accused the group of spreading "fairy tale hysteria" and "waxing philosophical lies."
"They'd like to think they're neutral, but they're not," said school board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman, who also serves on the partnership's trustee board. "Once you state an opinion, you've lost your neutrality."
Brown, chairman of the partnership's board of directors, thanked Denlinger for her three years of service and said she had helped the partnership grow more relevant today than at any time in its history.
During the recent controversy, the partnership has described its role as working within a divided community to help find a middle ground.
School board Chairman Ron Margiotta said he's hopeful that having a businessman running the group will improve relations. The school board also is considering hiring a businessman to be its next superintendent after having dropped the requirement that the schools chief be an educator.
"Our relationship hasn't recently been the best," Margiotta said. "It's been strained. Hopefully we have someone now who will look at all the facts and not blindly support the past practices."
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