Wake County Schools

Tata: Wake parents will be 'toughest commanders yet'

Posted January 7, 2011 12:39 p.m. EST
Updated January 7, 2011 6:24 p.m. EST

— Meeting with several mayors from across Wake County Friday morning, retired Army general and incoming school superintendent Tony Tata said the district’s parents “will be my toughest commanders yet.”

Tata met with eight of the county’s 12 mayors for about an hour, talking about major budget challenges for the school system, the controversial student assignment policy and equity among schools.

“I don't think there were any surprises,” Tata said after the meeting. “There were obviously some discussions about equity and Knightdale versus Cary, etc., and I plan to get out in those communities and learn what the issues may be.”

Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen, also president of the Wake County Mayors Association, pledged the group’s support and urged Tata to use the group as a resource.

Mayors said Tata – hired last month in a split board of education vote and amid controversy over whether he was the most qualified candidate for the job – made a good first impression.

“I believe the community will rally around him and the school board will get together because of his leadership,” Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said. “I think that is the most important thing.”

“Superintendent Tata is a very well-spoken person, and he's listening carefully to everyone in Wake County to learn what he needs to do as our new superintendent,” Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said.

Meeker and his wife, school board member Dr. Anne McLaurin, have both been critical of the school board majority's decision to drop the district’s longstanding diversity-based student assignment policy for one that focuses on assigning students to schools closer to home.

Opponents believe the move could result in segregation, high teacher turnover and a disproportionate quality of education among students.

That criticism didn't come up Friday morning, but Meeker did say he hopes the student assignment issue would be resolved in a “fair and reasonable manner” and said that school funding would be key.

Friday’s meeting comes on the second of a three-day visit from Tata, currently a District of Columbia Public Schools official – and the first of a series of visits to learn more about the schools and community – before he takes over as the school system’s chief executive officer on Jan. 31.

Tata shared with the mayors how his background – a family of educators, 28 years in the U.S. Army and service as a brigadier general – translates to serving as the eighth superintendent for North Carolina’s largest school system.

Educators, parents, community groups and some school board members have expressed their concern about his lack of experience in education. Tata has admitted that he is not the traditional pick for the job but believes he is the right choice, having mentored public school graduates in the military and getting them ready for combat.

On Thursday, Tata met with educators and students at Millbrook High School in Raleigh and spoke at a meeting of the Wake County Taxpayers Association. Outside that meeting, he talked to protesters worried about school diversity.

He’s expected to visit two more schools Friday before meeting with the news media and then with school board members. On Saturday, Tata will meet with community leaders concerned about school diversity.

“I am not coming in with any pre-ordained decisions,” he said in an interview Wednesday, vowing to gather all public input on the issue. “I have made no decisions whatsoever about any direction, and I am distinctly apolitical.”