Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County schools’ chief executive officer promises to listen carefully as he works to bring North Carolina’s largest school district into a world-class system marked by high student achievement and academic excellence.
“We have the foundation and the capability to be the center of the universe for educational leadership and student achievement throughout this country,” Tony Tata said Tuesday afternoon after being sworn in as superintendent of the Wake County Public School System.
The school board hired Tata, a 28-year Army veteran and retired brigadier general, in December following a lengthy search for a replacement for former Superintendent Del Burns, who retired last year.
Tata, who previously served 18 months as the chief operating officer for District of Columbia Public Schools, comes at a time when the state’s largest school system is facing numerous challenges, including high student enrollment and $100 million in school budget cuts that could mean teacher layoffs.
The Wake County school board that hired him also faces reviews by national accreditation firm AdvancED and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights after a public challenge to the board’s controversial student assignment policy that opponents say will violate the civil rights of economically disadvantaged students.
Compounding those issues have been concerns from the public, educators and some school board members, including Carolyn Morrison, that Tata might not be the right person to lead the school system because of his lack of experience in education.
He, however, has called the move from a military career to education a “natural transition” and said Tuesday he welcomes critics’ concerns.
“I think the noise level is an indicator of how passionate people in Wake County are about the education of our children here,” he said. “I truly appreciate this care and concern, and the students of Wake County deserve our very best, and I intend to give them everything that I’ve got.”
“I will make the tough decisions that this position demands. We will do all of this in our drive to provide our students the education and futures they deserve and our country demands,” he added. “I understand the full breadth of the public trust that has been placed in me, and I promise, I promise, to handle it with care.”
Morrison, who voted against hiring Tata and publicly spoke out on what she called shortcomings in Tata’s résumé – specifically his lack of professional experience in education – was the first board member to welcome him to his new position.
“While my experience with Tony Tata has been limited, I have had a very favorable impression,” Morrison said, noting a recent visit to Lacy Elementary School in which Tata asked students about their school and personal interests.
“In my opinion, if our new superintendent will so focus on all of our children and consider their welfare as his guiding star, good things will happen in Wake County under his leadership. That is what I hope for and expect from Tony," Morrison said.
Other board members also welcomed Tata and offered their full support.
“It’s an honor and humbling experience for you to join our ranks,” board member John Tedesco said. “I believe all of us have the best interest of our kids at heart … I believe there’s no better person to lead those future dreams than you, Mr. Tata. I believe you can be a catalyst to take this school system from good to great.”