Wake school superintendent Gainey leaving; he had calmed system

khui@newsobserver.comApril 2, 2013 

In the latest leadership shift for the state’s largest school system, Wake County is losing interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey, who has served as a calming influence during the past several turbulent months.

Gainey was hired Tuesday after a specially called school board meeting of the Randolph County school board. The departure potentially injects another complicating factor into Wake schools governance as the board prepares a new school assignment plan, completes its budget, works on a school-construction bond proposal and hires a new superintendent.

Gainey, who had never served as a superintendent before, stepped in to the role in September after the school board fired Tony Tata. Gainey said that he had not applied for the Wake position because it would have put the school board in an unfair position as it conducted its search for a new chief.

“I have all the respect in the world for the Wake County school system, the people before me and the current Wake County school board because they are tremendous,” Gainey said Tuesday. “I want to make sure that’s out there, because they have been tremendous to me. They have let a inexperienced superintendent learn his way the last six months.”

School board Chairman Keith Sutton said Gainey would likely take time off in June to prepare for the move to Randolph County, about 66 miles west of Raleigh. According to its timetable, Wake hopes to have a new superintendent hired and ready to take over by July 1, but Sutton said the system might have to work with an August start date if the educator they hire for the job has to complete other commitments.

Gainey’s announcement came as Wake has seen major transition in its leadership since September.

After Tata was fired, he was named state secretary of transportation by Gov. Pat McCrory. Tata has hired away seven Wake school employees to serve in leadership roles in his department.

Two school board members also have resigned in the past few months. And the system has come under fire from Republican state legislative leaders, who want to take away the Wake school board’s power to construct and maintain the system’s schools.

The school board will hold a superintendent search committee meeting Monday to consider feedback its search firm received at a series of public meetings last week.

“Our superintendent job is a great job; it’s one of the top superintendent jobs in the country,” said school board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner. “We are a great school system. We have challenges that I think will attract someone focused on student achievement.”

‘He has really helped us’

Gainey will receive $165,000 as Randolph County superintendent. He had been paid $120,000 a year as Wake’s assistant superintendent for human resources. He’s been getting an additional $5,000 a month as interim superintendent.

“It’s certainly a loss to Wake County, but certainly a gain for Randolph County,” Sutton said.

Gainey said that relocating to Randolph County was the right move for him, his wife and his two young children.

“Randolph County grabbed me,” Gainey said. “They grabbed my heart. That’s a big thing for me.”

Gainey said he’ll be able to lead Wake while also thinking about his new job in Randolph County, an 18,500-student district south of Greensboro. Wake has nearly 150,000 students.

“There will be no less attention to Wake County schools,” he said. “I have a responsibility to the school system and I will uphold that.”

Gainey, 43, started his career in Wake in 1993 as a math teacher at Apex High School. He was promoted to assistant principal at Leesville Road High School in North Raleigh in 1996.

Gainey left Wake to become a principal at Turrentine Middle School in Burlington in 2001.

He was lured back to Wake in 2004 to become principal of Leesville Road High, where he was a popular school leader who frequently walked the halls and seemed to know the name of every student and parent.

Gainey said the hardest decision in his career was to return to Wake because he liked living in the Burlington area, which is near Randolph County.

Gainey became assistant superintendent of human resources in 2009.

Although Gainey’s career goal has always been to be a superintendent, he said his whole life changed the day he agreed to be interim superintendent on Sept. 25.

“I’ll tell you three things about what’s happened the last six months for me: I love Wake County schools,” he said. “I wanted to be a superintendent, and I’ve had a ball for six months.”

Gainey said he hoped he had calmed things down during the past few months to get the focus back on educating students.

“He has done such as great service for Wake County,” said Kushner, the board vice chairwoman. “He has really helped us through an important transition.”

Staff writer Thomas Goldsmith contributed to this report.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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