Wake County schools' chief academic officer Donna Hargens, who served as interim leader during a turbulent period for the system, will leave her post to head a Kentucky school system.
The Jefferson County, Ky., school board on Tuesday voted to hire Hargens as superintendent. Hargens, 53, has accepted the job leading the 100,000-student school system and will start Aug. 1.
"I think it's indicative of the level of talent we have here in Wake County," Wake Superintendent Tony Tata said Tuesday evening. "We're confident she'll do well in Jefferson County."
Hargens leaves at a time of major transition in Wake. School officials here are developing a new student assignment plan while confronting challenging cuts in resources because of the state's budget woes. The move leaves Tata without a key player on his transition team.
Until Tata took over as superintendent Jan. 31, Hargens had led Wake as the interim chief for nearly a year while the board, led by a new change-minded majority, sought to replace his predecessor, Del Burns. As chief academic officer, she has been in charge of overseeing the education of Wake's 143,000 students.
The Hargens announcement occurred just days after Tata announced an organizational shakeup that would create two new top-level leadership positions. Under the reorganization, Hargens would have reported to a newly created position of deputy superintendent for school performance. An outside auditor said Tata needed a person knowledgeable about student performance to rely on.
Hargens could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
"I am humbled by being selected as the next Superintendent of the Jefferson County Public School System," she said in a statement to The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville. "The time I spent in the Louisville community has demonstrated to me the genuine support of, and the value that you place on education." Hargens has long sought to become a superintendent. "That's what I've prepared for," Hargens said this month.
Hargens also was a finalist to be superintendent of New Hanover County Schools in July but didn't get the job.
Jefferson County's school system is going throughmany of the same issues that Wake is facing. The system was involved in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2007 that sharply limited the use of race in student assignment.
Jefferson County school officials have visited Wake for advice on a new assignment plan. Until May 2010, Wake had used socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment.
"She is very sharp," said Steve Imhoff, chairman of the Jefferson County board of education. "Most of her experience in education has been with instruction and curriculum, and we need help in that area."
The board and Hargens still must work out contract details.
This month, when Hargens became a finalist for the Kentucky job, Tata praised her but said that the system will go on if she leaves.
At the time, Hargens said Tata "has done a fabulous job" and that "Wake County is really moving in the direction that we all wanted."
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