Wake County Schools

Merrill takes reins of Wake schools

Posted August 1, 2013

— Thursday marked the first day on the job for the new leader of the Wake County Public School System.

Superintendent Jim Merrill, who was hired in June, toured area schools and met with reporters, saying student achievement is his primary focus for the state's largest school district. He also said the passage of a school construction bond is "critical."

But Merrill shied away from questions about the state budget's impact on Wake County classrooms and Gov. Pat McCrory's proposals to create a fund to reward "master teachers" and cut down on standardized testing.

Merrill said he was still getting up to speed on those issues and didn't want to comment.

Merrill worked in Wake County schools for 16 years as an English teacher and administrator in the 1970s and 1980s. He most recently was superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, where he was named Virginia's 2013 superintendent of the year.

He said in June that he has positive memories of working in Wake County, where much of his philosophy as an educator was formed. Yet, he recognizes that he comes into a district facing enrollment growth and budget challenges.

He also must work with a school board that has been polarized in recent years and that has battled with the Wake County Board of Commissioners over funding and the control of school buildings. The two boards are trying to persuade voters to approve an $810 million school construction bond this fall.

Superintendent Merrill takes the mic Superintendent Merrill takes the mic

"I'm either naive, completely insensitive or I just plain don't feel the political atmosphere," he said. "I'm an academic leader. I'm not a political leader, and as much as I might have to step into political arenas, that's not my comfort. That's not where I choose to go."

Merrill said he'd rather be in the schools, working with principals, teachers and students. Asked about North Carolina ranking 48th in the nation for teacher pay, Merrill said that's the "wrong position to be on that list."

"I think teachers are carrying the proverbial Sisyphus rock harder and more difficult than they ever have. It's not just Virginia or North Carolina, I think it's nationally," he said.

"They are whipsawed constantly with changes in legislative policy at the state level and at the federal level. Seldom is something removed from expectation, accountability or the teacher's plate, and yet we squeeze more onto it."

Wake schools hire Jim Merrill as superintendent First day of school for new Wake superintendent

Two members of the school board voted for another superintendent candidate, but board Chairman Keith Sutton said Merrill is the right man for the job.

"You can't win superintendent of the year in two different states and get those resting on your laurels," Sutton said in June. "Obviously, he has been innovative and moving with trends in education."

Merrill succeeds Tony Tata, who was fired as superintendent last fall and now heads the state Department of Transportation.

Under the terms of Merrill's four-year contract, he will earn $275,000 a year.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • tarheelfan41 Aug 2, 2013

    I've read where NOW Wake Co can return to one of the great districts of its size...blah, blah, blah. Please show me the test scores that have EVER indicated Wake was even marginally strong compared to the rest of the U.S. Maybe NC and Wake Co can make a meteoric rise to no. 40 in the nation?

  • CrewMax Aug 2, 2013

    I keep hearing refrains of " I'm your puppet". But, I wish him luck.

  • Krimson Aug 2, 2013

    NTFS: "school bonds are about politics"

    No, its about necessity. That's why both the GOP led County Commissioners and the DNC led School Board BOTH favor the passage of the bond. Its the cheapest and easiest way to do something that MUST be done: taking more tax-payer money to build essential schools.

    The schools WILL be built - now its a matter of deciding how to pay for it. Your choice...

  • WralCensorsAreBias Aug 1, 2013

    "There is a common denominator in this whole wake co school fiasco. The school board!"

    That's correct and as long as they remain in power the public should not for one second think of passing the school bond.

    Why would you trust those people with another dime?

    It's not about the kids and never has been, school bonds are about politics and what those in control can get away with.

    They are getting away with nothing and they will not get more tax dollars either. Not with the public's blessing anyway.

  • IPayYouPay Aug 1, 2013

    "whatelseisnew": It was fine before the reps came in - reps attacked what was there - that (before the reps) was the great school system everybody was coming to NC for. You're the mistaken one.

  • IPayYouPay Aug 1, 2013

    I heard on the news this a.m. that a teacher said she dreaded her child come into this system in 2 years. Well, sweetheart, I can only say I can't wait for my son to get out of it in 2 years....yeah, that's right, my last child will be out of WCPSS!

  • bubbaredneck Aug 1, 2013

    There is a common denominator in this whole wake co school fiasco. The school board!

  • Krimson Aug 1, 2013

    WEIN: "What a sad sad misunderstanding of what happened to the system."

    Thank you for so succinctly demonstrating that partisanship I spoke of in my last post.

  • injameswetrust2003 Aug 1, 2013

    "Bet he doesn't last 6 months."

    Are you kidding? This guy is a card-carrying wake way forced busing kool-aid drinker. With the liberal school board at his back, he'll be here for 4 + years.

  • whatelseisnew Aug 1, 2013

    "There was a time when Wake was regarded as one of the best in the US for its size... Then partisans started getting involved and changes were made to the Board... People with 20+ years of experience were let go in lieu of people like Goldman and Tedesco... You do the math..."

    What a sad sad misunderstanding of what happened to the system. It has been degrading for decades now. The reps had a very brief control of the board. The lefties instead of working in cooperation to see if some new ideas would be helpful, attacked the new board from day one and created chaos. The very very ignorant people in this county blamed the board for the chaos instead of the people that were causing it. The dems regain control and for absolutely NO reason got rid of Tata. Typical lefties, that cost us almost a quarter mil to buy out his contract and now they waste more money on a lifer educator. The result is, the degradation will continue. At least some of the discriminatory busing got eliminated.