Dec 13, 2022 - News

Tonight is a pivotal moment for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership

CMS Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Hello to a new school board, and goodbye to another superintendent.

Tonight, in a rare occasion, a fresh slate of leaders will swear into the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Five newcomers and four members of the old guard will immediately get to work on a stacked agenda, from overseeing the district’s financial state to tweaking the school lottery policy.

  • Their first task is deciding who, of the nine members, will lead the group as chair and vice chair. “There’s been a couple of names that are floating around,” incoming member Melissa Easley tells Axios.
  • Later, the board could discuss a new temporary boss for the school system in a closed session. Interim superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh is leaving Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at the end of the month, cutting his contract short to tend to family matters in Florida. Tuesday is his last regular monthly meeting.
  • The board will approve a contract with the next interim superintendent during a special meeting, sometime between Dec. 14 and 31, according to CMS.

Why it matters: CMS, one of the largest school districts in the nation with more than 141,000 students, has faced major challenges in recent years. The community perception of the district has declined for a number of reasons, from a wide achievement gap to a revolving door of superintendents. The next permanent superintendent will be the district’s seventh in 12 years.

  • While historically incumbents have done well holding onto their seats in low-key school board elections, newcomers were for the most part victorious campaigning on change.
  • “The community definitely spoke in electing five new board members out of six districts,” says electee Summer Nunn. “So, I think they’re looking for change. That was definitely a signal.”

The makeup: The new members come from a range of backgrounds: Nunn is a CMS parent; Easley and Lisa Cline are former CMS educators; Stephanie Sneed chaired the Black Political Caucus; and Gregory Rankin comes from the nonprofit sector.

  • They join longtime member and current vice chair Thelma Byers-Bailey, the only incumbent to successfully defend their seat in the election, as well as the at-large members who weren’t up for re-election: current chair Elyse Dashew, Jennifer De La Jara and Lenora Shipp.

What they’re saying: “There’s gonna be a learning curve,” Easley says. “I don’t see there being like a roadblock or anything, but I see us having to maybe stop for a minute and be like, ‘OK, let’s back up and let’s make sure we understand this.'”

  • Byers-Bailey believes the incoming members are prepared. Some are less green to education than she was when she started.
  • “When I was a first-time board member, I felt like I was drinking from a firehose,” Byers-Bailey says. “There was so much to try to get an understanding of … There were state regulations, there were federal regulations, there were ethic concerns. There’s so much that goes into running a large school district.”

Hattabaugh’s early departure ups the pressure to hire a superintendent. Easley says they need to hire someone by June, when Hattabaugh’s contract was supposed to end. The board fired its last superintendent, Earnest Winston, in April following a low performance review.

  • Cline says she’s looking for a candidate who won’t use CMS as a stepping stone. “We just need to have someone who’s going to be committed. That’s really important. We’ve gone through so much in the past 10 years, 11 years, and we need to have some stability.”
  • Tuesday night the board will hear a report on feedback CMS has collected from the community regarding the superintendent search. Priorities related to diversity and student performance ranked high when polling respondents what they wanted to see in the next superintendent, according to the prepared presentation.

What’s next: Over the next term, new members tell Axios some of the most significant tasks will include overseeing the shuffling of students to open a fourth high school in south Charlotte in 2024. The board also needs to prepare for the bond referendum that will be on the ballot in 2023 to cover construction projects. The last bond package was approved in 2017 for $922 million.

The board is also faced with navigating cultural issues including what is taught in the classroom.

“I just want to make sure we stay focused on improving student outcomes for our kids,” Nunn says.

“I’ve made it very clear my entire campaign where I stand on these culture wars, which I think are absolutely ridiculous,” Easley tells Axios. “I will stand for all students. And I don’t play those games.”

  • CMS is tracking progress on four goals for student outcomes through 2024. Tonight it will review Hispanic students’ reading and writing scores.
  • The school board is slated to meet Monday morning with Mecklenburg County commissioners. The relationship between the two bodies has been rocky in the past. The business on the agenda is “tbd.”

Details: Tonight’s swearing-in is 6pm at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. CMS will also take time to recognize the outgoing members. Stream online here.

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