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New CEO to fill leadership void for N.C. schools

Posted January 27, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— A day after Gov. Beverly Perdue appointed a chief executive for North Carolina's public school system, an independent consultant released a report that explained why the move was needed.

Evergreen Solutions LLC, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based consultant, examined the state Department of Public Instruction last fall and found it lacked a clearly defined leadership structure, which thwarts efforts to improve schools and leaves questions of accountability.

Consultant criticizes N.C. school leadership Consultant criticizes N.C. school leadership

"Changing and demanding times call for a structure of leadership to ensure the coherence of policy and its implementation and the agile but crisp administration at all levels," the consultants said in the 203-page report.

The report laid the blame on the continually changing role of the elected state superintendent of public instruction.

Unlike her predecessors who oversaw DPI's daily operations, Superintendent June Atkinson acts more as an education ambassador who works with school and business leaders to improve and has little authority. Instead, the State Board of Education has played a more active role in running DPI in recent years.

"It has not been good public policy. It's been more of a yo-yo effect. It's been more of a political tug of war," said Robert Schiller, an Evergreen consultant who formerly was a state education superintendent in Illinois and Michigan.

The hybrid structure didn't work, the report said.

"The general public believes the state superintendent that they elect is in charge of public education. That's not true," said John Turcotte, director of the General Assembly's Program Evaluation Division, which hired Evergreen to perform the study. "You had a deputy state superintendent supervising the work of the state superintendent by direction of the state board, and it was a question of who's in charge. Is it the board, the superintendent or deputy superintendent?"

Perdue wasted no time in adopting one of Evergreen's 43 recommendations, announcing Monday that Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison would become CEO of public education in the state.

"The buck ultimately stops with me, and I've put in place the man I believe can fix the day-to-day operations of the public school system," Perdue said.

Harrison, 56, said he welcomes the challenge and hopes to expand the use of technology in education to include cell phones and podcasts.

Bill Harrison, CEO of NCDPI/State Board of Ed chairman Harrison will focus on technology, dropouts

“There’s technology out there that the students use on a regular basis, and we need to use the tools that they use – tools that we may not be comfortable with but the tools they’re comfortable with,” he said. “We need to make schools more similar to what they see in the real world."

Too many students tune out too early because the tools they use in everyday life aren't incorporated into their learning, he said. The state's dropout rate has stubbornly remained close to 30 percent in recent years, despite various state and local efforts to encourage students to remain in school and graduate.

"We don't learn by sitting and listening; we learn by being actively engaged," he said. "I think too many of our students disconnect at too early an age."

In Cumberland County, 28.7 percent of students who were freshmen in 2004 did not graduate last year.

"I say the public schools are about providing children access to to their dreams – that's kind of the moral imperative – and the other part is a kind of economic development imperative," he said.

Harrison started teaching in Fayetteville in the mid-1970s and also served as superintendent in Brunswick, Hoke and Orange counties before taking over in Cumberland County 12 years ago.

"I think one of my strengths as a leader is I was a visible leader," he said, adding he will take that hands-on approach to Raleigh.

"I will never lose sight of what we're about, and we're going to try to streamline the bureaucracy, if you will, as much as we possibly can," he said.

He will start work in Raleigh in March, but the Cumberland County school board hasn't named a replacement for him.

Atkinson will continue to serve as state superintendent, and Perdue has asked her to lead a state task force on career development and work force issues.

Harrison said he looks forward to working with her, calling her "the face of public education" in North Carolina.

“I have a great deal of respect for her, and she brings an awful lot to the table,” he said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • streetfightinman Jan 28, 2009

    A friend of Bev's no doubt corruption is alive and well everywhere, especially in NC it's just going to get worse with her leading the way. lol

  • MizzZeta Jan 27, 2009

    So...what's the point in running for the office of the State Super.?

  • affirmativediversity Jan 27, 2009

    I'm with ghimmy51! What exactly did Harrison achieve in his 12 years in Cumberland Co? What was the drop out rate when he started? What was the literacy rate when he started and what is it now?

    The schools in Cumberland Co. suck. They are over run with gangs and self absorb brats who have been told, once to often, that they are "special"...Lord help any child that actually wants to get an education in Cumberland Co...and what I say of it Harrison only encouraged narcissism!

  • toobad Jan 27, 2009

    Our school system is in finacial trouble. The way to fix it is to create a new position. Hire a CEO and pay him/her a 6 digit salary. As always, the triangle is upside down. Turn a pyramid upside down and see how long it will stand!

  • bleh Jan 27, 2009

    Wonder what this CEO's new salary will be, as well as how much money he donated to Bev's campaign....I'm just sayin'....

  • daMoFo Jan 27, 2009

    I agree with due_whats_right. That's make learning fun because I only have to do the part of my job that is fun. Balancing a check book, paying taxes, doing what my boss tells me are all fun things to do.

    As a teacher for 20+ years, this is just more of the nonsense we hear each year in school. Bill Harrison is a good man. I know because I worked for him, but he, like all superintendents, is a politician first. When you hear cliches like "hands on approach", you know you're hearing form over substance. Teachers and superintendents cannot lower the drop out rate. Parents are the only ones that can do that and there is a limit to what even they can do.

    I lived in Cumberland County and taught there for years. We tried every dog and pony show there was to lower the drop out rate and none worked. You cannot make people care about education and you cannot make them value hard work.

  • due_whats_right Jan 27, 2009

    Theresme - As a former business teacher of 12 years and current administrator, I can understand and go along with Dr. Harrison. I used current technology in class, including cell phones, palms, voice recognition etc. to enhance learning and to teach how technology can improve life. Doing so, helps students learn the multiple use is of technology as well as the proper way to use it (I mean can we teach people phone etiquette for meetings and public places!) I don't think it will make teachers jump through hoops, but it will cause them to have to "step up their game" and get on the tech bandwagon. I can tell you because of the hands on nature of my classes, I had hardly any discipline issues, students learned, & I had high test scores. When learning is relevant and students can relate to it, it becomes fun. No longer can you lecture and take notes. I think for this part, Dr. Harrison has my attention. We will see about the rest.

  • ifcdirector Jan 27, 2009

    What's this guy talking about? We can't have efficiency in education or state government at any level for that matter. It is very un-democrat.

  • oldfirehorse Jan 27, 2009

    Well said ghimmy. All I could say when I read the story was "HUH?" Appointed, hmmmmmm. And in record breaking speed...whatever happened to say, letting the public have an idea that such a powerful (and expensive) position is being created, and maybe recruiting, screening, hiring? Appointed! This is going to be an interesting Governor for sure!

  • terrie Jan 27, 2009

    I agree with ghimmy about appointing a career administrator to what I see as an overpaid position that will come up with more "regulations" and new phrases that will obstruct rather than enhance teaching. Every legislator should spend one week teaching before they are allowed to pass laws on something about which they know absolutely nothing.
    How much is he getting paid to make teachers jump through more hoops?