RALEIGH, N.C. — At a pivotal time when national standards for education have never been stricter, North Carolina is losing one of its leaders.
State school Superintendent Mike Ward chose not to seek re-election and is stepping down from the post early. For nearly eight years, he has been one of the most powerful voices on education in the state.
"I think I'm most proud of the fact that we began to narrow the gaps in student performance by race, by poverty. We moved from rhetoric to action," he said.
Ward is stepping down to support his wife, Hope, who was named a bishop in the Methodist Church of Mississippi.
Ward leaves at the end of August, four months before the end of his second term.
"Hope is a phenomenal person and it's always been easy to support one another in our respective careers," he said.
The state school superintendent is proud of what he has accomplished in North Carolina.
"I wanted to help assure better rewards for the profession. I wanted to make sure schools are safer places. I wanted to see us improve student performance," he said. "We've got something to show for the effort in each of those areas."
Ward takes no credit for the "heavy-lifting" as he calls it, giving it all to teachers and school administrators. He says the next superintendent will have more to do.
"It's not a place for the faint-hearted," Ward said. "On the other hand, it's a terrific time to be in schools. More resources are being provided by public schools than at any time I can think of."
Ward hopes he will continue to be a resource for schools.
"Hope's ministry is important, but so is the ministry of education. I hope to be useful in schools wherever we find ourselves," he said.
Gov. Mike Easley will appoint an interim superintendent to finish out Ward's term. Easley officially accepted Ward's resignation in a letter and thanked him for his service to the state.