Acting Superintendent Winston Makes First Public Appearance

Jul 16, 2019

The westside residents who gathered at a Freedom Drive school Monday night had hoped to hear Superintendent Clayton Wilcox talk about hiring a new principal for West Charlotte High. Instead, about 50 people heard Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board chair Mary McCray acknowledge that her board had just suspended Wilcox indefinitely.

Acting CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston and Westside Education Think Tank leader Shamaiye Hayes at Monday night's community meeting on Freedom Drive.
Credit Ann Doss Helms / WFAE

Leaders of the Westside Education Think Tank, a community group that advocates for public schools, say they fear that flux at the top of the district could imperil West Charlotte High, which has been a focus of community pride for generations. The highly-regarded principal announced her resignation July 1, and the start of school is only six weeks away.

“It just causes a lot of anxiety amongst the community members of what’s going to happen with CMS leadership and how it’s going to trickle down and affect those that have children in school,” said Stephanie Sneed, a think tank organizer who plans to run for school board this year.

Before the meeting began, Sneed and fellow organizer Yvette Townsend Ingram said they hoped school board members would show up, offer clear information and lay out the plan for moving forward.

[What Wilcox Suspension Means For CMS]

Five of the board’s nine members did turn out. So did Acting Superintendent Earnest Winston, who has served as a top lieutenant to several superintendents. But none provided insights into why the board suspended Wilcox just two years after he was hired, or what will happen next.

“I know people want to know what has happened, but because this is a personnel matter the board cannot provide further details on this matter right now,” McCray said. “Statutorily and in regard to the superintendent, we have to honor what his contract says.”

The superintendent is responsible for hiring principals. Wilcox and his staff were also in the midst of looking for a new assistant superintendent to oversee West Charlotte High and 28 other high-poverty schools. CMS leaders didn’t mention that vacancy, but McCray and Winston sought to reassure the group that West Charlotte wouldn’t suffer from the sudden superintendent shuffle.

“I want you all to understand that the selection of a new principal at West Charlotte remains a priority,” Winston said. “It will not be sidetracked.”

Most members of the audience seemed content to discuss the principal search and swap ideas for getting more parents engaged at West Charlotte.

But Ingram said the board is going to have to do more than show up for meetings and offer vague assurances. “You can’t have trust in an organization with that much chaos and instability,” she said before the meeting.

In the past, Ingram said, the board has been a strong ally. But now it faces a test: “Now is the time for them to show in difficult times what CMS is really all about.”