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Will Ann Clark stay on as CMS superintendent?

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote that one of the most important issues Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would need to address this year is leadership. The school board has been incredibly quiet about the status of the district’s long-term superintendent search. But now, there’s a new wrinkle to CMS’ approach.

Could the school board tap Ann Clark, who had initially planned to retire by the summer of 2016, as a long-term superintendent?

Some school board members, at least one school board candidate, and some in the business community think it’s a good idea.

Clark became interim superintendent — and then was awarded the job outright — last fall after Heath Morrison’s abrupt and controversial departure from CMS. At the time, Clark said she had planned to retire from the district, where she’s worked for more than three decades, in 2016. Her contract says she wouldn’t be a candidate for the long-term job.

The idea, at the time, was that Clark could provide the leadership necessary to get CMS through the difficult period following Morrison’s departure while the school board searched for the right long-term fit.

But the board’s search process, at least publicly, has been slow.

Some school board members say they think Clark has done such a good job, and has provided such steady leadership during a difficult chapter for the district — Morrison’s departure, a delayed state budget, the beginning of student assignment review — that the board ought to offer Clark a long-term contract. Jeremy Stephenson, an at-large school board candidate, has been vocal in his support for keeping Clark as CMS chief.

In a city guaranteed to have another new mayor, and in a state that will be home to heated gubernatorial and presidential fights, folks like the idea of consistency.

In conversations I’ve had with members of the business community, folks repeatedly highlight the fact that CMS has had four superintendents since 2011, and a new hire would make five leaders in five years. In a city guaranteed to have another new mayor, and in a state that will be home to heated gubernatorial and presidential fights, folks like the idea of consistency.

Stick Williams, a Duke Energy executive who co-chairs CMS’ Project LIFT board, wrote in The Charlotte Observer last month that he’d like to see Clark stay on. “When we needed strong advocacy before the board of education or the state legislature, we could always count on Ann Clark to be there with us,” Williams wrote.

But not everyone sees Clark in such a positive light. Some members of the African-American community believe Clark played a key role in the highly controversial school closings in 2010, due to budget constraints, many of which were in predominantly black neighborhoods. The Observer’s Ann Doss Helms has done some terrific reporting about the lingering effects of those decisions, and how they may affect Clark’s future with the district.

Forrest has said she believes there is a lingering trust gap between Clark, CMS leadership, and the city’s African-American community.

Colette Forrest, a highly engaged CMS parent, emailed thousands of people last month warning that “members of the wealthy, privileged establishment have commenced a campaign to install Ann Clark as the permanent superintendent without so much as seeking the input of the other communities that make up Charlotte.”

Forrest has said she believes there is a lingering trust gap between Clark, CMS leadership, and the city’s African-American community. She’s asked people to speak at tomorrow night’s school board meeting against the idea of awarding Clark a long-term contract.

I’m particularly interested in whether this issue will become a factor in the school board race over the course of these final couple weeks.

Clark has largely kept quiet about the whole affair, deferring questions about her future to the school board, but not exactly opening or closing doors on the idea either. Because the board’s at-large seats are up for election next month — Chair Mary McCray and member Ericka Ellis-Stewart are running for re-election; Vice Chair Tim Morgan is not — it’s unlikely the body will take up the issue until after votes are cast.

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.