© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Report: CMS Board Knew About Wilcox's Offensive Remarks

CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox
Gwendolyn Glenn
Former CMS superintendent Clayton Wilcox resigned in July shortly after he was suspended.

Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who resigned abruptly in July, was accused by at least two senior administrators of making comments offensive to minority and female employees, the Charlotte Observer reported Tuesday.

The Observer's report, attributed to unnamed sources and a whistleblower letter from a former chief academic officer, says that behind the scenes, Wilcox made comments some employees found offensive. Among those comments were joking about an African American staffer feeding her kids Pop Tarts and Kool-Aid, and calling a female employee working on the schedule "my little calendar girl."

Board Chair Mary McCray told WFAE that the type of comments reported were "on the radar" of the board. She confirmed that she held a coaching session with Wilcox in 2018 after the whistleblower letter reported some of the comments.

"We talked about it and were told it would not happen again," McCray said. "But evidently it did."

McCray would not specify whether the remarks led to the board's suspension of Wilcox in July. He resigned shortly after being suspended, and the board signed an agreement not to disparage him.

In the two years he led CMS, Wilcox built a reputation as an advocate for children of color and poverty. For instance, he choked up when he presented a 2018 report on links between race, poverty and academic disadvantage.

"Many of our kids are really suffering from the impact of poverty and racism," he said then. "And to step away from that would be criminal on our part."

The Observer said Wilcox declined to comment on the allegations.

Former Chief Academic Officer Brian Schultz wrote to board members in February 2018 to report some of the offensive comments, according to the Observer report.

McCray told WFAE that Schultz was "the bravest of them all" for coming forward so early. She said some people who apparently had concerns about Wilcox wouldn't talk about him while still working for CMS.

The Observer story noted that some prominent black women, including Project LIFT Superintendent Denise Watts and West Charlotte High Principal Timisha Barnes-Jones, left CMS this summer -- after Wilcox got a raise and not long before he was suspended. McCray wouldn't say directly whether that tipped the balance against Wilcox, but she said that both women left for good jobs.

And she noted -- twice -- that "it was not just black females leaving. It was white females and white males, too."

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.
Jodie Valade has been a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE since 2019. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Athletic to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks — where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal — and at The Kansas City Star. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Education from John Carroll University. She is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan.