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CMS board targets 2017 for new chief

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board listed five dozen qualities members would like to see in a new superintendent—and say they aren’t willing to compromise on key attributes as they seek a long-term leader.

At a special meeting last week, board members heard advice from McPherson & Jacobson, an Omaha-based consulting firm that has been hired to help with the search. The consultants said timing will be critical for CMS to attract the type of candidates the school board—and the community—expect.

Many of the top-tier candidates for vacant superintendent jobs have already been hired. So the consultants advised a timeline that, under ideal circumstances, would involve recruiting candidates this fall, interviews in the winter, and a hiring decision by spring of 2017.

Current Superintendent Ann Clark’s contract goes through next June, though the school board can appoint a new schools chief before then.

Board members narrowed their list of desired qualities down to six key traits:

Integrity beyond reproach

Strong public education background

Politically savvy


Ability to build strong teams

Culturally competent leader to create culturally competent district

Under McPherson & Jacobson’s proposal, the school board would conduct private interviews with a small group of candidates in January, two finalists would meet the public in February, and a hiring decision would follow soon after. The public would also have a chance to participate in focus groups or community meetings sometime this fall, though it’s too early to know exactly what those sessions would look like.

One thing the school board, advocates and critics all seem to agree on is the need to hire a superintendent with staying power. CMS has experienced significant leadership churn in the last decade, a shuffling in-and-out of executives, priorities, and personalities that has made governing the school system more difficult.

Peter Gorman served five years, from 2006 to 2011, before resigning to take a position at News Corp. Deputy Hugh Hattabaugh served as an interim superintendent until 2012, when the school board hired Heath Morrison. His abrupt and controversial departure in 2014 shocked the community and created tension among the school board. Clark, a longtime CMS administrator, has been superintendent since Morrison’s resignation—but she was not intended to be a permanent choice for the job.

Whomever the board hires will be the fifth leader in just over a decade for CMS, the nation’s 17th largest school district. Short tenures are somewhat common for the leaders of large, urban districts. However, the CMS board is hoping to buck that trend and install a superintendent committed to staying here longer.

The list is a pretty clear outline of what’s required for a superintendent to be successful here. Longevity isn’t explicitly called out—but it may be the most important requirement of all.

Adam Rhew

Adam Rhew attended Beverly Woods Elementary, Carmel Middle, and South Mecklenburg High schools, all part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He earned a journalism and political science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a contributor to Southern Living, Charlotte magazine, and SBNation Longform, among other publications. Previously, Adam was an award-winning television and radio news reporter, with stops at stations in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.