Wake eliminates education pedigree as rule for top school job

The school board Tuesday gave final approval to a change a policy that used to require the school superintendent to hold a doctorate and to have worked in schools.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education wants an open field to hire the next superintendent for the system, and it has broadened its options by dropping educational background and advanced academic degrees from what is required.

In a 5-4 vote at its protest-marked meeting Tuesday, the board gave final approval to a change in its Policy 2100, “Employment of the Superintendent.”

Gone are qualifications that had required that the person hired “possess an earned doctorate or equivalent” and that he or she “have had three years’ experience in school work in the past 10 years.”

Also gone is a provision that required the system to look in its own ranks first and to search outside only if it could not find a qualified candidate in the staff of the 140,000-student, 162-school system that is North Carolina’s largest.

The board is looking to fill the top job that became vacant when Superintendent Del Burns resigned to protest the board’s decision last spring to eliminate socio-economic diversity as a priority in school assignments. Burns said he could not “in good conscience” work with that.

One of his assistants, Donna Hargens, was named interim superintendent. Hargens, it was announced this week, is a finalist to be superintendent in New Hanover County. She has not said whether she applied for a permanent appointment to the job she now holds temporarily.

Burns and Hargens both have doctorates in education, as do former administrators and current board members Kevin Hill and Carolyn Morrison. They both voted against the changes.

The vote Tuesday was in fact a confirmation of a process that was already under way.

The board last month hired national search firm Heidrick & Struggles, based in Chicago, to look anywhere it can for a leader with or without education credentials. The company’s consultants have held a number of meanings with various groups, including the county Wake County commissioners who control the school budget, school principals, local officials and members of the public to learn what qualifications and capabilities they would like the next superintendent to have.

The board’s Superintendent Search Committee is awaiting a summary of those findings, which board member Anne McLaurin cited in asking colleagues to hold off on taking the needed second vote to drop the requirements.

She failed. She did get support, including Goldman's, for another amendment to drop a current stipulation that says the board has to “extend the newly elected superintendent a unanimous vote of support and confidence” if the vote to hire him or her is split.

State law gives the board leeway in hiring. Chapter 115C-271 of the General Statutes says, “At a minimum, each superintendent shall have been a principal in a North Carolina public school,” but also provides the person can instead have “other leadership, management and administrative experience.”

Supporters of the policy changes finalized Tuesday include board Vice Chair Debra Goldman, who heads both the board’s Policy Committee that wrote the changes and the Superintendent Search Committee that decided to hire Heidrick & Struggles and will screen candidates.

That group has said that someone with business or military experience might prove a better candidate than others with deep educational backgrounds. The consultants told a public meeting they held that they had instructions to look inside and outside educational circles for strong candidates.

How long the whole process will take is unclear, as is whether Hargens will be offered the New Hanover job and leave before anyone is brought to the superintendent’s office suite at the system’s Wake Forest Road headquarters.


Ron Gallagher, Web Editor

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