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

CMS board gets bios on seven superintendent candidates as one consultant raises warnings

 Search consultant Debra Hill addresses the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Monday.
Search consultant Debra Hill addresses the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board on Monday, April 17, 2023.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board got its first look Monday at bios of seven people who want to lead the district. They will decide soon how many to interview.

Three consultants from the Illinois-based BWP & Associates came to Charlotte for the board’s special meeting. They spent about 90 minutes in open session talking about how strong the field of 39 applicants was and how the board would handle the first round of interviews.

Debra Hill said those applicants came from 18 states and include 19 superintendents. She, Kevin Castner and Percy Mack — all former superintendents — narrowed the field to seven. Hill said the board’s toughest job will be choosing one.

“We really do think you’re going to struggle to come up with one of the candidates because this was a stellar field,” she said.

Before going into closed session to hear BWP’s report on the seven, the board asked for another opinion. A.J. Crabill, a consultant who has spent the last two years helping the board focus its work on improving academic outcomes for kids, had been watching remotely and was patched in for comment.

Crabill said he doesn’t think the board’s leadership profile and the BWP screening has done enough to identify candidates who have a record of helping students advance academically.

“I would strongly encourage you to recalibrate your process such that you not be considering candidates who have not demonstrated that they can move the needle for children,” he said. “Whether you like them, whether they have communication skills, whether they’re diverse, whether they believe in equity or anything else to me is entirely secondary if they can’t actually get the job done for children.”

Crabill said he knows it would be “onerous” to ask the firm to go back and produce academic data, but he said it’s important to avoid being led astray by candidates who may be charismatic but ineffective.

“Your leadership profile is not about student outcomes. Your leadership profile is about adult characteristics,” Crabill said. “And I am not convinced that any of those have any meaningful correlation with improvements in student outcomes.”

 Consultants Debra Hill, Kevin Castner and Percy Mack (l-r) took part in Monday's special school board meeting.
Consultants Debra Hill, Kevin Castner and Percy Mack (l-r) took part in Monday's special school board meeting.

The school board went into closed session to discuss the applicants without commenting on Crabill’s remarks. They spent more than two hours behind closed doors hearing from the trio of search consultants, and will get more information on the seven finalists Tuesday.

Summer Nunn, who chairs the board’s search committee, said afterward she appreciated Crabill’s focus on outcomes but said he’s not privy to everything BWP is doing to screen candidates for the job. She said the additional information will include academic data.

“We will be getting that and that will be a focus of our questioning too. So it’s one of those things where he just wasn’t aware of what the process was with (BWP),” she said.

During open session, Hill told the board her firm has done a “soft search” to see if there are any controversies associated with the finalists. “You don’t want there to be any surprises,” she said.

But Crabill said the board should go further and hire the type of opposition research team that looks for damaging information on political candidates. Crabill is a former Kansas City (Mo.) school board chair who does national consulting for school boards. He said his board paid for opposition research on superintendent applicants and it was “a godsend.”

“An opposition research team will find dirt that will never show up in a background check and likely is not going to show up in a Google search or online search,” Crabill said. “And I’d curl your toes with some of the things that I’ve found about superintendent candidates over the years that never came up anywhere else other than with some oppo research.”

Nunn, who was among five new members elected in November, said that thought hadn’t occurred to her. But she said she’s aware of the district’s history. It hired two superintendents — Heath Morrison and Clayton Wilcox — in national searches but ended up forcing them to resign within three years.

“I think it’s important that we do research on candidates. We honestly as a board haven’t discussed that at this point, what level of search we’re going to do on a candidate,” she said.

The first round of interviews will take 90 minutes and be conducted remotely. After that the board expects to narrow the field to no more than three for in-person interviews. Unlike past years, they won’t meet the public before being selected; the board has agreed to confidentiality for anyone who is not chosen. The plan is to have a superintendent in place in May.

Sign up for our Education Newsletter

Select Your Email Format

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.