Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Public School System's acting superintendent says he plans to work on keeping the district moving forward after a controversial decision by the school board on Tuesday to fire its superintendent of less than two years.
"The last couple of days have been tough on Wake County schools, no doubt, but Wake County schools' mission is what's out in the 169 schools," Stephen Gainey told reporters Thursday at a Communities in Schools event at Barwell Road Elementary School in Raleigh.
"Let's get our focus there. We have 150,000 students coming to school every day," he added. "Everybody's mission is those students, so let's get our focus back there. And that's how we can start moving."
The school board named Gainey acting superintendent for 60 days after voting 5-4 to approve a separation agreement dismissing Tony Tata from his post.
The move prompted criticism of the Democrat-controlled board with Republican school board members, politicians and parents describing it as "disgusting," "thuggish" and partisan.
But school board leaders cited as grounds for termination Tata's leadership style, a strained relationship with board members and a chaotic start to the school year, including a debacle in which the district was flooded with complaints that buses were late or absent picking up or dropping off students.
That led to Tata publicly apologizing for the problems and the district putting buses it had taken out of commission to save money back on the street.
Gainey, the school system's assistant superintendent for human resources, said one of his priorities over the next two months will be to finish fixing the transportation problem.
"We're going to work to get as many drivers on the ground as we can. That's the key to solving this issue," he said. "But we have safety standards we have to abide by. We're not going to cut corners and jeopardize children's safety."
Another challenge will be working with a divided school board on revising this year's student assignment plan.
"You have to respect everybody's perspective on things, and that's what we're going to do," he said. "I'm going to try to work hard to manage the staff, keep a positive atmosphere."
Gainey has spent 17 years of his 20-year career in education in the Wake County school system.
He started as a math teacher at Apex High School before becoming assistant principal. He moved on to be principal at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh.
He's led the human resources department since 2009.
"I have a strong commitment to Wake County schools, and that's the reason why I'm in this role at this point," Gainey said. "We have tremendous talent in the schools, and we're going to rely on that. I've told principals who've emailed me, 'What I need you to do is to do the great job you do every day.'"