Apr 19, 2022 - Education

Reports: CMS board to vote to terminate superintendent Winston today

Earnest Winston

Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Earnest Winston will likely be fired Tuesday after less than three years on the job.

Driving the news: The school board will meet at 12:30pm to discuss “matters related to superintendent contracts.” Multiple outlets have reported that Winston, who had a contract through 2025, was given the option to resign or be fired.

  • WBTV’s Nick Ochsner reported that tension’s been mounting between the school board and superintendent for months. Multiple sources told Ochsner the board offered Winston more than $300,000 to resign, but he turned it down.
  • School board member Ruby Jones told WFAE’s Ann Doss Helms that Winston will leave “at the convenience — legal term — of the board because there is no cause.”
  • Helms reported that the board will be required to pay Winston two years’ salary, or about $577,000.

Why it matters: The second-largest school district in the state continues to swerve along a rudderless path. CMS will now be searching for its fifth superintendent in the past decade, and seventh in the last 12 years.

  • They’ve tried national searches, with the hiring of Heath Morrison from Nevada in 2012 and Clayton Wilcox from Maryland in 2016, only to see each leave amid controversy.
  • And they’ve hired from within, bringing Ann Clark temporarily as an interim from 2014 to 2016, and then Winston in 2019.

What happened: Winston faced critics from the moment he took the job. He was a former Charlotte Observer reporter, who turned classroom teacher, who turned communications officer, who rose to become chief of staff. But he did all that without even a master’s degree in education or administration, and that lack of formal training became a constant criticism.

  • Former county commissioner Jim Puckett, for instance, posted on Facebook after the hiring, “The boat is sinking (and) we must take evasive action followed by the crew rushing the bridge throwing the captain overboard and promoting the Cruise director.”

But under the surface, Winston had built a reputation as a communicator, and families and staff members throughout CMS grew to know him as the person who’d return calls and help if they needed someone at the main office to listen.

Throughout his tenure as superintendent, defenders and even a few detractors had some form of the same assessment of Winston: His commitment to teachers and students, including his daughters who attend CMS schools, was obvious. But was that enough?

“This for me is not a steppingstone to a higher paying job,” he told me in late 2019, a few months into the job. “This is the only home that our girls know. We’re in it for the long haul.”

  • The school board relentlessly defended him in the early days of his term.

But then came COVID-19. And endless debates over masking and closures. And deeper discussions about which students would suffer the most lasting damage.

  • The board extended his contract and gave him a 3% raise in February 2021.

But the rest of that year brought and endless stream of troubles, from Black faith leaders asking the county commission to withhold money from CMS until achievement gaps were addressed, to multiple allegations of CMS schools mishandling sexual assault claims, to Title IX violations, to a rush of teacher resignations in the wake of COVID, to a surge in the number of guns being brought to school by kids.

What he’s saying: Winston hasn’t addressed the dismissal publicly, but did post a tweet in which he quoted former President Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

The big picture: The job of CMS superintendent — overseeing 140,000-plus students at a time when public schools have become a political battleground — is without question one of the most difficult jobs in the state and maybe the South.

  • At 12:30pm today, it seems the job will be open to anyone who wishes to apply.

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