Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County’s new school superintendent met with school staff, teachers and students Thursday on the first of several visits scheduled before he officially starts Jan. 31.
Tony Tata, who currently serves as chief operating officer for District of Columbia Public Schools, met with administrators at the Wake County Public School System and visited Millbrook High School in Raleigh, where he spent about an hour touring the campus and meeting teachers and students.
“I'm listening, and I’m asking teachers if they’ve got the resources to do their job,” he said. “I’m on personal leave from Washington, D.C., public schools, and I’m coming down here to listen and learn so that I can begin leading on Jan. 31.”
Tata, who was expected to visit two other schools during his three-day visit, also addressed a meeting of the Wake County Taxpayers Association Thursday evening.
On Friday afternoon, he'll meet with the news media before a closed-door meeting with the school board.
Tata's appointment on Dec. 23 was not without controversy as educators, parents, community groups and some school board members expressed concern about his lack of experience in education.
A former Army brigadier general, Tata admits that he is not the traditional pick for the superintendent job but believes he is the right choice.
“I understand there’s some anxiety,” he said in a WRAL News interview Wednesday. “I’ve spent a career dedicated to caring for, coaching, teaching and mentoring young men and women across the country in a multitude of assignments.”
Tata hasn’t discussed his specific plans for Wake County schools yet, but he has shown an interest in creating a rating system for teachers that would reward good teachers and attempt to help struggling ones.
"If their students are not learning, they should not be teaching,” Tata said.
Tama Bouncer, of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said she would not support a pay-for-performance program.
“This year, a teacher may have a class with fewer challenges. Thee next year, there are a little more,” Bouncer said.
Tata said that every decision he makes as superintendent will be in the best interests of students and teachers and that he plans to listen to parent and teacher concerns before making decisions that affect them.
Some of those decisions will likely be difficult.
Tata becomes the eighth superintendent of Wake County schools at a time when the district is facing a projected $100 million budget deficit, high student enrollment and a controversial student assignment policy that opponents say will violate the civil rights of economically disadvantaged students.
“It’s all about the students and the parents and the employees of Wake County public schools for to me, and if we just stay focused on student achievement and clear away the rest of the noise, everything is going to be OK,” he said Wednesday.
Still, some critics Thursday evening questioned the motives behind his first public meeting being held with the conservative Wake County Taxpayer’s Association, which has supported conservative members of the school board.
They say the move is an indication that Tata will support the conservative board majority.
Tata, however, says his schedule on the first trip also includes meeting with people from different points of view, including community leaders concerned about diversity in schools.
He maintains he does not have any political agenda.
“I am not coming in with any pre-ordained decisions,” he said Wednesday. “I have made no decisions whatsoever about any direction, and I am distinctly apolitical.”
Outside the taxpayer’s association’s meeting Thursday night, Tata stopped to shake hands with protesters. The move had protester Monserrat Alvarez feeling cautiously optimistic.
"I appreciate him stepping out to the side to speak with us," he said.