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Should Clark Stay Or Go? Superintendent's Future Stirs Public Debate

Lisa Worf

CMS Superintendent Ann Clark said she didn’t intend to pursue the job long-term when she was appointed to the position more than a year ago.

But a movement is afoot to keep her beyond when her contract expires next year – and that’s spurred a movement against keeping her. Both sides had their say at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

The opposition is driven by the perceived role Clark had five years ago when the board closed several schools, mostly in African American neighborhoods. At the time, Peter Gorman was superintendent, and Clark was his chief academic officer.

Colette Forrest believes Clark had a big role in that and says CMS needs someone else to unify the district at a time when some say it is divided along racial lines.

“I don’t think she’s a good fit. I don’t think she has the empathy that we need to lead one of the largest school systems in the nation. I don’t think she has a proven track record,” Forrest said.

Forrest spoke freely outside the board meeting. During the meeting, a handful of people spoke out against Clark as she listened to their criticisms, but they couldn’t mention her name. Board chairwoman Mary McCray wouldn’t let them, invoking a policy that prohibits the names of any CMS employee, even the superintendent’s, from being spoken during public hearings.

McCray enforced that rule when Clark critic Waddell Brunson came close to crossing that line.

“The administration has focused on putting those in leadership who have the popularity but not the reputation, who are easy choices but can’t solve hard choices,” Brunson said before being told to direct his remarks about the board by McCray.

CMS Board Chair Mary McCray

Brunson called on the board to hire a superintendent who has experience leading a district with a diverse student body.

Clark also had her supporters during the public hearing. One of them was Richard Williams, the president of the Duke Energy Foundation. The Foundation has contributed several million dollars toward Project LIFT. Many consolidated schools created from the closings five years ago are part of the Project Lift initiative.

"I haven’t seen any evidence that Ann Clark was the reasons those schools closed,” Williams said after the meeting.

He spoke in favor of Clark remaining superintendent for the sake of stability in a district that has had four superintendents in the past six years.

“This lady(Clark) is passionate about this district and the thought of seeking a fifth in a short period of time just scares me. Stability, I think is critical,” Williams said.

The school board hasn’t started the search at this point. Clark’s contract runs out next summer.