Orange County Schools targets intolerance
Todd Wirt, superintendent of Orange County Schools, will step down down at the end of June.
In a letter to Orange County families, Wirt said being superintendent has been one of the greatest privileges of his life. Wirt, who has worked in K-12 education for nearly 20 years and served as superintendent for four years, also addressed the issue in a Tuesday Facebook post.
“Last night, with the support of Kelly White Wirt and guidance from God, I stepped away as Superintendent of Orange County Schools,” the post read.
“This was completely my decision and one that we are at peace with as a family,” it continued. “After much prayer and guidance, I believe that God has called me out on the water and I am trusting him for what is next for my career. Our family is great and we are optimistic for what God has next for us. We will not be moving and will continue to be active members of the community. I’ll remain Superintendent until the end of June. Thanks for all of the love and for checking in on me.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Wirt said he doesn’t have another position lined up.
“I don’t know what’s next yet,” Wirt said.
Wirt said he hopes to serve students and educators in a different way, although he isn’t sure what that is.
“I’m just at a point in my career where I’m looking to do something different,” Wirt said. “There’s no deeper story to it.”
Board member Matthew Roberts said Wirt was very committed to the success of the district’s students and will be missed.
“He contributed a lot to the district and made a lot of progress assessing needs and putting programs in place to address those needs,” Roberts said.
Board member Steve Halkiotis said he was stunned.
“I’m still trying to get over it,” said Halkiotis, a former principal of Orange High School. “This guy really knew curriculum and instruction to the nth degree.”
Wirt was data driven and made sure the district knew which students were doing grade-level work or better and which needed more help, Halkiotis said.
“In that respect we’re the strongest we’ve ever been,” Halkiotis said. “If you’re not data driven you don’t really know what’s going on with your student population.”
School district spokesman Seth Stephens said Wirt’s current salary is $169,877.48 and his contract was set to expire in June of 2022.
In recent years the Orange County Schools has also focused on race relations and racial equity. After a months-long campaign by community members in 2017, the school board agreed to create an equity task force and banned the Confederate flag and other divisive symbols as part of the student dress code.
“We have definitely learned a lot about our community and ourselves in the last couple of years,” Wirt said Wednesday..
In January of this year, the board unanimously passed an equity policy drafted by task force, “to eliminate racial intolerance, and other forms of intolerance, inequities of opportunity, and academic disparities in our district.” In addition to racial disparities, the policy addresses inequality based on national origin, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age and socioeconomic status, The News & Observer has previously reported
“The equity task force has not exclusively focused on race,” Wirt said at the time, “but has explicitly put its focus there because our academic gaps and opportunity inequities are largely based on race.”
Wirt said he has been trying to reduce the achievement gap since he arrived in the district, and that local educators have learned a lot about the connections between equity issues and racism. The district’s equity initiatives were developed after hearing from community stakeholders and studying equity programs all over the country.
“I have personally just opened myself up to learning a lot,” Wirt said. “I’ve listened to the stories and experiences of teachers, students and other community members,”
Wirt said he is optimistic that the next superintendent will be able to move the district’s efforts even further.
“I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress,” Wirt said. “There is some hard work ahead, but I’m happy with where we’re leaving it.”
A 20-year educator, Wirt was assistant superintendent for academics for the Wake County school system from 2012 until joining Orange County Schools in 2015. A former Mooresville High School principal, Wirt was chosen from a field of 40 candidates, The News & Observer has previously reported.
The district will immediately begin looking for Wirt’s replacement. Roberts said board members may select an interim superintendent, depending on how long the search takes.
The typical North Carolina superintendent only stays in a school district four or five years because of the pressures and demands of the job, said Halkiotis, who added he’s been through superintendent searches before.
“They’re not fun,” he said. “When you find a good one you want to hold on to them.”
Staff writer Mark Schultz and correspondent Matt Goad contributed to this story.