Virginia Beach educator named as new Wake superintendent
Posted June 18, 2013
Updated June 19, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Jim Merrill, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, was named Tuesday night as the new superintendent for Wake County school system.
Merrill, who worked in Wake schools for 16 years as an English teacher in the 1970s, lauded the district as a leader in the state and nation.
“It really is very exciting and an honor for me to be able to return to Wake County as superintendent,” he said. “I don’t think any of you can appreciate what it means to me.”
Board chairman Keith Sutton welcomed Merrill’s return, but the choice was not unanimous. Board members Deborah Prickett and John Tedesco voted against the selection.
The appointment caps weeks of anticipation about who would replace former Superintendent Tony Tata, who was fired earlier this year. The announcement was supposed to come two weeks ago but was deferred while the board worked out undisclosed details.
Talking briefly with reporters after his appointment, Merrill declined to say what caused the delay.
Under the terms of his four-year contract, Merrill will earn $275,000 a year. The amount is $25,000 more than Tata's starting salary. Sutton said Tata did not have the experience that Merrill brings to the job.
Merrill said he has positive memories of working in Wake County, where much of his philosophy as an educator was formed. He also said he is aware that he needs to get up to speed quickly on the issues and doesn’t have a preconceived agenda.
“I really want to reflect what this community wants for the children,” he said. “It’s presumptuous of me to come in and say, ‘I’ve got the answer, here’s how we’re going to do this.’”
Merrill will begin in August with a tour of schools and facilities. Cathy Moore, Wake's superintendent for School Performance, will serve as interim superintendent until he arrives.
Merrill beat out two other finalists – Dana Bedden, superintendent of Irving Independent School District outside Dallas; and Ann Clark, deputy superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The three were winnowed from a field of 23 candidates for the job.
Merrill, who also served six years as superintendent of the Alamance-Burlington school system, said he didn't know what clinched the board's decision to hire him.
"You'll have to ask them," he said.
Sutton said in a statement: "Dr. Merrill outlined an impressive program of growth for Wake County schools and brings with him the skill set and institutional knowledge to lead the state’s largest public school district into a new era.”
Tedesco threw his support behind Clark, calling her "one of the finest educators I've ever met." Prickett agreed.
"She was the person I felt we needed at this particular time," she said.
Tedesco said those who chose Merrill are nostalgic for the way things used to be in the district, but Sutton pointed to Merrill's achievements.
Merrill was named Virginia superintendent of the year for 2013. He said Virginia Beach City Public Schools has received national attention for its strategic plan, which he described as a collaborative effort across the district.
When asked how he would handle specific policies and issues in Wake County, Merrill said it was too soon to take a position.
"I'm not short on opinions," he said. "Just not on this one tonight."
Merrill holds a bachelor's degree in secondary English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a master's degree in education administration from Appalachian State University and a doctorate from UNC-Greensboro.
A report published two weeks ago said Merrill had been chosen, suggesting a leak among the board members. Sutton expressed disappointment Tuesday and called for a review of the board's ethics policy and possible sanctions.
"Certainly, there needs to be some accountability and repercussions when someone breaches the trust of the board in that manner," he said.