Wake could hire schools leader Thursday

Strong leadership skills, little teaching time likely

Staff WritersDecember 22, 2010 

— The Wake County school board is expected to select a new superintendent with a strong leadership background, but limited education experience.

The school board, which oversees the nation's 18th-largest school system, scheduled a meeting Thursday to talk about - and possibly hire - a superintendent.

The candidate's name has not been revealed by school officials. But several school board members on Tuesday described the person as having strong business and leadership skills, but without extensive experience working in school systems.

One person who fits the profile: Anthony J. Tata, chief operating officer of the D.C. Public Schools, a retired Army brigadier general and author. Since June 2009, Tata has been in charge of purchasing, food service, technology and other support areas in the school district.

Tata, who has been identified as one of several candidates for Wake superintendent, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The Wake school board, which is officially nonpartisan, has spent most of its first year in conflict along party lines. Members hewed to their party affiliations when they voted 5-4 this year to drop the requirement that the superintendent have a superintendent's certificate and have worked in schools at least three of the past 10 years.

At the time, the five Republican board members who approved the change said they wanted to expand the pool of applicants to get the best possible person.

"I do want an educator; I've wanted an educator from day one," said Democrat Carolyn Morrison, a current board member and retired Wake principal, on Tuesday. "I just can't imagine having anyone else."

Morrison also declined to name the finalist.

The candidate is described as a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains leaders, including non-educators, to work in large urban school districts. The California academy was started by Eli Broad, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Tata graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy in 2009.

Burns left in a huff

It's rare, although not unprecedented, for a major school district to hire a superintendent with little education experience. Last month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg named Cathie Black, the former publisher of USA Today, to run the nation's largest school system.

The position in Wake opened when Del Burns announced in February that he was resigning as superintendent because of his opposition to the school board's policies, including the elimination of the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignments.

In March, after Burns criticized the changes during several news interviews, the board put him on paid administrative leave through his June resignation date.

No applicants named

The school board hired Heidrick & Struggles, an Illinois executive search firm, to help vet applicants. At the urging of the firm, the board has not publicly released the names of any of the applicants.

On Dec. 1, the board held a closed meeting to interview the top candidates identified by Heidrick and the board's superintendent search committee.

The school board, which has since offered a contract to the new superintendent candidate, will meet in closed session Thursday, before potentially voting publicly on the hiring.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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