Wake County Schools

Tata says he's ready for Wake schools

Posted January 5, 2011 6:18 p.m. EST
Updated January 5, 2011 7:27 p.m. EST

— As part of his 28 years of service in the United States Army, former Brigadier Gen. Anthony Tata led soldiers in combat missions and operations across the world, including Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Tata, set to take over Jan. 31 as the eighth superintendent of the Wake County Public School System, now faces a new mission: increasing student achievement, decreasing the student achievement gap and equipping young people to be better prepared in a competitive global economy.

“It’s no longer good enough for our students to be at one level (of education) while the rest of the world is increasing to other levels,” Tata said Wednesday in Washington, D.C., where he has served for 19 months as chief operating officer for District of Columbia Public Schools. “Our students in Wake County have to compete with all those other students because those students are coming over here and taking jobs. It’s really all about having a world-class education system.”

But he faces an uphill battle.

His appointment comes at a time when North Carolina’s largest school system is facing numerous challenges, including high student enrollment and $100 million in school budget cuts that could mean teacher layoffs.

The Wake County school board that hired him also faces a public challenge to their vote for a controversial student assignment proposal that opponents say will violate the civil rights of economically disadvantaged students.

Compounding those issues are concerns from the public, educators and some school board members that Tata might not be the right person to lead the school system because of his lack of experience in the education sector.

“I understand there’s some anxiety,” he said. “I’m a non-traditional pick, but what they have to understand is (that) all of my life, I have been taking care of these 17-, 18-, 19-year-old enlistees – young men and women – that have come from mostly public schools around this country. I’ve spent a career dedicated to caring for, coaching, teaching and mentoring young men and women across the country in a multitude of assignments.”

Tata says what's best for students and teachers will be the first and foremost factor in every decision he will make. He says he plans to listen to both parent and teacher concerns before making decisions that affect them.

He’s already received dozens of e-mails from parents and teachers. “My big comment is that they will not find anyone who will be more compassionate, more caring more focused on leading Wake County and trying to clear the smoke away so we can focus like a laser on student achievement,” Tata said.

Still, there’s the looming budget concerns and teacher layoffs. No cost-cutting measures, he says, can be ruled out. “When you keep the student first and foremost – what’s best for the students – and backward plan for that, I think you come up with good decisions,” he said.

With more than three weeks to go before he officially starts, Tata will begin on Thursday a three-day tour in Wake County, where he plans to meet with school board members, members of the community, including the Wake County Taxpayers Association, and visit Baucom Elementary School in Apex and Lacy Elementary and Millbrook High schools in Raleigh. He'll also hold a news conference late Friday afternoon. (Watch it live on WRAL.com.)

“It’s all about the students and the parents and the employees of Wake County public schools for to me, and if we just stay focused on student achievement and clear away the rest of the noise, everything is going to be OK.”