Wake County Schools

Tata was 'heartbroken' over Wake schools firing

Posted January 8, 2013

— Newly appointed state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata says he wasn't completely blindsided by his departure from the state's largest school system nearly four months ago when the Wake County school board voted to fire him from the superintendent's post he had held for less than two years.

"I could sense there were some things in the winds, and it was no secret there was a direction and pace issue, I believe. So, as it came to a head, it was not a complete surprise," he said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with WRAL News.

"I was heartbroken," he added. "That was the only emotion I felt."

Known for his hands-on approach as superintendent, Tata visited every school in the district at least once and held more than 800 meetings with community groups, parents, teachers and students. Every decision he made, he said, was in the best interests of Wake County's nearly 150,000 students.

"That whole time for me was one of great satisfaction," he added. "I told the board chairman and vice chair, 'I’m not walking out on the people of Wake County. You’re going to have to deal with this.'"

Amid growing speculation by community members that Tata's job was in jeopardy, the Democratic majority of the nine-member board voted Sept. 25 to release the retired Army general – hired by a Republican board majority in 2010 – from his four-year contract.

Many people campaigned to save Tata’s job, and those who condemned the controversial firing called it political.

Tony Tata interview Web-only: Tony Tata interview

In its defense, board leadership cited an "increasingly strained" relationship with Tata that "severely hampered" the board's ability to function. Other reasons, it said, had to do with operational issues with a new student assignment plan he implemented and his leadership style, which "did not leave room for collaborative decision making and input."

"I felt I was the right person for the job, and I still feel I was the right person to come and lead this system forward," Tata said.

When he saw a solution to a problem, he said, he wanted it handled with "direction" and "speed."

"I don’t believe that it’s fair to the child who needs a program this year to talk about it for a year," Tata said. "If we know we need the program, let's get the program to the child."

Tony Tata Wake schools' former superintendent speaks out about firing

While he was superintendent, Tata put measures in place that he says helped low-income students perform above the state average for the first time in recent history, if ever. Students across the board, he said, also made significant gains.

"The (state) Department of Public Instruction has 20 areas where they grade us," Tata said. "We received high marks in 19 of those 20 areas."

He started two leadership academies aimed at giving students opportunities to earn college credit and get on a path to college that they might not otherwise have.

And he preserved teaching jobs while trying to balance a school system budget with a gap of $60 million.

"I think the direction and the passion was the rub," Tata said of his termination. "I was proud of the direction we were going."

Months later, newly elected Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Tata to the transportation post to oversee and develop a 25-year plan to maintain and expand North Carolina's transportation system.

It's a role, Tata said, for which he is confident that his military and management experience qualifies him.

"I'm going to continue what I've done all my life," he said. "In the military, I led from the front, in the fox hole. I was all over Afghanistan. At the Wake County Public School System, I was in every single school. And here at the Department of Transportation, I'm going to be all over the state making sure I'm a visible leader supporting the men and women doing the hard work."

137 Comments

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  • goldenosprey Jan 10, 9:55 a.m.

    To Be Human Is wrote "You must be a democrat

    TIME TO THINK ABOUT THE KIDS - and STOP letting politics (mostly Democrats with political agendas) rule the WCPSS board, like has happened for dozens upon dozens of years.

    Even those who don't live in Wake County see that and fully understand the child negligence, in the way of putting children in harm's way awaiting buses in the dark (that never come), that the Democrats have subscribed to in that county, and it's shameful for the entire state."

    Is is actually the hyper-partisan republican school board that made national headlines and political humor shows with its political agenda first- kids last ranting. That is why they were booted in the next election. Those who so desperately want to tack "us vs them" mentality to the school board are the ones responsible for its weaknesses.
    I'm sure there were parents who supported Tata because he was hired to resegregate the schools. That did not make him competent as a superintendent.

  • wildpig777 Jan 9, 6:38 p.m.

    gen ral tata, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION- big mac's first MAJOR MISTAKE.

  • Nancy Jan 9, 6:27 p.m.

    "I wonder how many hearts he broke over his years of firing people"

    huh? Who'd he fire? If you're going to make the accusation, back it up.

    How does one fire anyone in the military by the way? And as his short term as WCPSS super, he didn't fire people, may have laid off a few as was well overdue given how bloated administration was under Del Burns ("Yes, all 234 administrators are necessary" - that Del Burns)

  • balog Jan 9, 5:35 p.m.

    I wonder how many hearts he broke over his years of firing people

  • Dynol Yn Cael Ei Jan 9, 5:35 p.m.

    beaupeep - "Well, that makes 26 of you."

    ROFLOL LOL LOL

  • AFSC426X3 Jan 9, 5:31 p.m.

    Wake County School Board. What a JOKE!!!

  • whyalltheproblems Jan 9, 5:28 p.m.

    very true CrewMax.
    Mr. Tata, very, very glad to know you will be serving our state.

  • CrewMax Jan 9, 5:15 p.m.

    Interesting that a couple months before the firing board members were singing his praises. I am tickled that we wil get the benifit of his leadership at the state level. But, we are still afflicted with the clowns that fired him. At least until the next election.

  • Dynol Yn Cael Ei Jan 9, 4:58 p.m.

    birkie74693 - "well over a dozen teachers and a dozen parents who are friends, all think Tata was completely lost in the job, and made things much much worse before he was finally tossed out."

    You're vastly outnumbered!!!

    Hundreds upon hundreds of parents appreciate what he did, and dozens upon dozens of educators - teachers and principals alike who were interviewed during his superintendency, are as well.

    You must be a democrat, and a sour one at that.

    TIME TO THINK ABOUT THE KIDS - and STOP letting politics (mostly Democrats with political agendas) rule the WCPSS board, like has happened for dozens upon dozens of years.

    Even those who don't live in Wake County see that and fully understand the child negligence, in the way of putting children in harm's way awaiting buses in the dark (that never come), that the Democrats have subscribed to in that county, and it's shameful for the entire state.

  • beaupeep Jan 9, 4:12 p.m.

    George Armstrong Tata is probably heartbroken because his incompetence was so brutally exposed during his brief but disastrous reign as supernintendo of the school system. I'm deeply amused by all the people pretending he did a good job; my wife and well over a dozen teachers and a dozen parents who are friends, all think Tata was completely lost in the job, and made things much much worse before he was finally tossed out."
    birkie74693

    Well, that makes 26 of you.

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