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CMS AD continues to carry 'accountability' and 'integrity' into her second year on the job

Ericia Turner.jpg
Sarah Delia
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CMS athletic director Ericia Turner says she is continuing to carry accountability and integrity into her second year on the job.

CMS athletic director Ericia Turner is now in her second year and feeling more confident in the role. One of the biggest adjustments she had to make last year was moving from her position as principal of Rocky River High School, which she has held since 2016. Her new district gig came with a certain quietness — at least with the day-to-day.

"When I first came up here, I was probably borderline depressed because I miss my students so much because I'm so involved," Turner said. "And then when you come up here to central office, you're kind of disconnected from that."

To help re-spark that connection, Turner makes a point of attending various CMS athletic events. She wants to be a familiar face for parents and students to approach.

"I can't figure out what the culture of a school is sitting in this office," Turner said. "I have to be visible. And so when you go to games, you learn a lot about a school. You learn a lot about the students. And so when people see me at games, parents like to approach me and talk to me and they want to share some of the things that they do with their school, and I'm open to that."

Turner has had a versatile career. She's served as Alamance County's athletic director, principal, coach, educator, assistant principal and is an athlete herself. She's also a parent.

Turner's own story informs how she approaches working with other people's children. In 2000, one of her sons passed away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome while at daycare. He was five months old.

"That has changed the way I view life, period. Because now as an educator, you have other people's children in your care. And so I don't take that lightly," she said. "And so I move differently because of that because parents entrust the care of their children to us every day. That's a hard thing to do. The hardest thing I ever had to do was send my other child back to that same daycare because I had to go back to work. She [the daycare worker] didn't do anything wrong. My baby died of SIDS in his sleep. But it still makes you think about how parents feel when they drop their kids off at school every day and the kids don't return home."

Because of her personal and professional life experience, Turner said, she makes a point of ruling with two values in mind: accountability and integrity. She said that this sometimes makes her unpopular with parents since she is the person who must enforce the rules when it comes to things like player eligibility.

"And most parents are okay with the rules until it applies to their children. Now, all of a sudden, that rule is a terrible rule because now it applies to my child. So I don't like that rule. It needs to change," Turner said. "It's important that I'm in front of it and that we're consistent and that I'm saying the same thing and that we stand by it. It's hard to do that because I'm not the most like person in Charlotte-Mecklenburg right now because of stuff like that."

Myers Park High School first reported eligibility issues in January, when Principal Robert Folk was given information from a parent that led him to question some enrollment and eligibility criteria on the varsity football team. It turned out multiple players were in violation. Eligibility issues then rose in two other high schools — West Charlotte and Julius Chambers. Turner says she's been fielding lots of calls this summer, calls from parents who don't understand why their child can't just transfer to a new school so they can play on a particular team.

Turner is big on communication, so in early August, she invited not only coaches but school administrators, social workers and parents to a symposium focused on player eligibility to get everyone on the same page.

"So we're going to do one big coaches symposium at the beginning of the year. Every year we'll do this. This was my test run. This was the first one, and we had over almost 400 coaches there," Turner said. "And we had principals there. We had registrars there and counselors there because they all need to know, as students are registering for schools, they need to know the rules."

However, she acknowledges that no matter how many rules are in place, no matter how many times she goes over them, there will always be issues around eligibility.

"But a lot of it is people intentionally try to skirt the rules and they want to try to find a way around the rules to fit their situation. People are going to continue to do that no matter what we do," she said. "But I feel like when you know better, you do better."

Turner herself was a basketball player, in high school and then in college at UNC-Chapel Hill. Too often, parents, she said, are trying to move their kids to a different school for what they assume will be a better opportunity — but that's not always the case or even necessary.

"I live in Catawba County. We had 700 students in my high school. I played on two state championship teams. Chapel Hill, found me in Sherills Ford, North Carolina. I didn't have to transfer schools. If you're good, they'll find you, " Turner said. "My daddy always told me 'if I got to go advocate for you, then maybe you don't have the talent, get on the court and show them.' And so trust your children's skill level and be honest about it and stop living vicariously through your children. Just because you did something don't mean they're going to do the same thing."

Turner said that she has "tunnel vision." She acknowledges the negative press CMS faced last year — from teams having to forfeit seasons to the firing of former superintendent Ernest Winston. But she stays out of what she calls "politics." It's easy to get distracted from the job otherwise.

"I'm a great woman of faith. So in my other life, I'm a minister, so I pray a lot and I've learned not to let those things distract me," she said. "I choose to focus on the positive because it keeps me motivated. I don't want to get burnt out. I'm 23 years in and I still come to work every day. Even with all the challenges."

She points to the photos of her children in her office and letters and mementos from former students. One key part of her game plan will stay the same. Whatever comes next, she'll keep her head down and focus on the win — doing what's best for the students.

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Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.