Wake wise to announce superintendent final

May 13, 2013 

The Wake County school board is looking for a new superintendent of schools. Whether it will make the right choice remains to be seen, but it bodes well that it’s making the choice the right way.

The board, following the advice of its search firm, McPherson & Jacobson, has agreed to publicly identify its two or three finalists for the job of leading the state’s largest school district. The final candidates won’t only be named, they’ll come to Wake County and meet with the public.

What a refreshing and sensible change from the secrecy that has surrounded the selection of new superintendents. Wake hasn’t released the names of finalists since 1995 when Jim Surratt was hired. He and the other finalist met with the community before the vote. The board didn't release the names of the finalists in 2000, 2006 and 2010.

That last choice, the hiring of Tony Tata, a former Army general with little experience in education administration, illustrated the hazards of making a major decision about public schools without including the public. Tata may well have been hired over the objections of some citizens, but a public vetting may have dispersed some of the misgivings about his qualifications and agenda. As it was, he was selected through a secretive and contentious process and he spent a good deal of his early tenure trying to build support for himself an his agenda. He was fired after less than 20 months in the job.

The next superintendent will have the benefit of having been reviewed and to some extent endorsed by the public. That should also make it easier for the board to make the hire by a unanimous vote giving the next superintendent a solid base of support as he enters the job.

The board appears to be looking for the next Wake schools leaders with the kind of search that befits a system of Wake’s size and stature, and one recovering from a troubled recent history and navigating difficult relations with Republicans who lead the Wake Board of County Commissioners.

The board has whittled a list of 23 candidates down to four semi-finalists. School board Chairman Keith Sutton said they are all veteran educators serving in school leadership positions. They will be interviewed during a closed sessions of the school board this week.

The finalists will go through additional board interviews and meet with the public. The next superintendent is expected to be named during the first week of June and could be in place by the first week of July.

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