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CMS board selects Crystal Hill, chief of staff, as interim superintendent

Crystal Hill
Ann Doss Helms
CMS Chief of Staff Crystal Hill talks to Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio at a joint meeting of the school board and county commissioners Monday.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board united Tuesday to name Chief of Staff Crystal Hill interim superintendent while the board seeks a permanent leader.

Hill was hired as CMS chief of staff on April 5, two weeks before the board fired Superintendent Earnest Winston. Before that she spent five years with Cabarrus County Schools, serving as chief academic officer and an assistant superintendent.

Board Chair Elyse Dashew said Hill has worked closely with Hugh Hattabaugh, who filled the interim job for about eight months, then left six months before his contract expired.

Dashew said the board unanimously selected Hill yesterday because “she brings a really strong skill set, but most importantly what she’s shown us in her work has just been a tremendous ability to take the vision and the values that we’ve put out there and carry them from the boardroom to the classroom.”

Hill becomes the first woman of color to lead CMS, even on an interim basis. She has bachelor’s and master's degrees from North Carolina A&T State University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Gardner Webb University, according toher LinkedIn page.

Hill compared the district’s current situation to halftime of a football game.

“We’re going to be going into the locker room,” she told reporters in a virtual press conference after the vote. “There’s a little bit of a change with the coach, but we’re going to be looking at what has worked so far and any changes that we need to make for the remainder of the year – again, making sure that this district is well positioned for the entry of a new superintendent.”

Hill will make a monthly salary that equates to $260,000 a year, working from Jan. 1 to June 30. Her monthly pay rate will be just under $21,667. Her current salary is $175,000.

Hill’s contract does not preclude her from seeking the permanent job, but Dashew said the board will do a national search.

At Tuesday’s special meeting, which lasted about six minutes, the board also approved creation of a search committee made up of Dashew and three members she appoints. She said she has chosen those members but wasn’t ready to name them publicly Tuesday.

Dashew says the board will “move rapid-fire” into a search for a permanent superintendent now thatfive new board members have been sworn in and a second interim has been hired."And we will now move on with the search committee’s work with no time to waste," Dashew said Tuesday.

The board hopes to find someone who can bring stability to a district that has become known for arevolving-door superintendency. Their goal is to have a permanent leader in place before the start of the 2023 school year.

It’s been more than a decade since any CMS superintendent lasted three years.

WFAE Senior Editor for News/Planning Ely Portillo contributed.

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.